Friday, July 17, 2015

Before I Die #548: Stroszek (1977)

This is the 548th film of the 1,160 films on the "Before You Die" list which I'm gradually working my way through.

Director: Werner Herzog
In his native Germany, this is about as good as it gets for
Bruno: eking out a few bucks by playing music in scuzzy
alleys. It beats getting pummeled by sadistic pimps, anyway.

Very well-done film, though rather depressing in its honesty.

Stroszek is the story of Bruno Stroszek, a troubled man in Germany who has spent much of his life in various mental institutions and/or prisons. Bruno is hardly a raving maniac, though he is an extremely passive and aimless alcoholic, who also is understandably agitated at his general state and the world around him. When not in an institution, he lives in a run-down apartment littered with garbage. He is constantly tormented by a pair of thuggish pimps who not only denegrate Bruno constantly, but who also intermittently steal his "girlfriend," Eva, from him. Eva occasionally turns to prostitution to make money, but she has a soft spot for Bruno, to whom she turns when her pimps abuse her more brutally than usual. Bruno and Eva eventually decide to get away from their torment by joining their neighbor, Scheitz, to emigrate to Wisconson in the United States. Scheitz is an elderly man who knows a Wisconsin native, a mechanic, who can put them up for a short time, while they try to chase down the American dream.

Things start modestly but hopefully for the trio of German immigrants. Bruno gets a job in the mechanic's shop and Eva begins waitressing. They save enough for a down payment on a mobile home. Before long, though, their new environment turns on the trio. No other job prospects turn up, the debts begin to mount, and there is little sympathy from any of the locals. Things go from bad to worse, forcing the trio to all take their own desperate actions, with unsavory results.

File this movie along with the many others that we can categorize as "Required One-Time Viewing" It's a film that nearly eveyone should watch, but need not revisit. The story is a sad one, featuring a rather pitiful protagonist, set in two horribly drab places, where depressing situations are shown as the norm. Fortunately, there is a certain amount of humor built into the film. Bruno's rants against the heartless consumerism in the U.S. can often be funny. They can also sometimes ring so true as to be not at all funny. The boorish behavior of the Wisconson locals is at times amusing in its general doltishness, though it is not at all funny when it turns into callousness towards our struggling German immigrants. The final sequences, set off when Bruno and the elderly Scheitz attempt to rob a bank, start in hilarious fashion, but then spiral into horribly bleak territory.

One of many comic scenes which add levity to an otherwise
bleak story and movie. The old man Scheitz is a special type
of demented case. Who better to literally ride shotgun?
These disparate tones may suggest that the movie would feel splintered in places, but such is hardly the case. Everything feels highly organic, even when it borders on absurd. Just when the picture threatens to become too depressing to merit continued viewing, a welcome dash of subdued humor comes along to ease the burden. Conversely, just when things may start to become a bit too comical, some nasty little turns bring us crashing back to the reality for Bruno, Eva, and Scheitz. Herzog did an amazing job of keeping the balance just right throughout the movie, and he made sure that the final statement leaves a clear impact.

With every Werner Herzog movie I see, my respect for him grows. His subjects are not the light and fluffy ones of escapism. They are hard looks at the realities of human life which many would rather not be exposed to. Herzog decides to look directly into these places, and his exceptional skills as a film director result in movies that, while often fictional, provide knowledge about the darker aspects of the human condition that more of us should be willing to gain.

That's 548 filmsm down. Only 612 to go before I can die...