Bruno Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) has a job where he travels the villages and smalltowns of West Germany, fixing and maintaining the projectors in their local cinemas. It's not a job that involves much interaction, yet that's the way he likes it as he doesn't have much to say anyway, but one morning he is in his truck getting ready for the day ahead with a quick shave, when a car zooms past and right into the lake before him. At first he is baffled, but once he sees the driver is all right he starts to chuckle and ventures over to greet this new arrival. He is Robert (Hanns Zischler), and he is running away from something...
That something being a broken marriage, but this is not really a film about men spending time with women, it's more a tale of men spending time with other men. Not in a homosexual way, but in a simple companionship way that does nothing more than enjoy being around someone of the same gender who they feel comfortable with, as the introduction of sex into the equation would disrupt their peace, whether it was gay or straight. Writer and director Wim Wenders had already made international waves with his previous work, also a road movie, called Alice in the Cities, but Kings of the Road was the one which cemented his reputation.
That reputation being one of those European arty filmmakers who came to prominence during the seventies almost as a reaction to the popularity of American product, exhibiting as their fellow talents would do a fascination with the United States coupled with a desire to mark out their own territory and idiosyncrasies relevant to their lives on their side of the Atlantic. Wenders was assuredly among the cream of this crop, and if you had the stamina to sit through three hours of not very much happening to get to a manly acceptance of the true unknowability of the opposite sex, then you might well have found your reward for persevering with the arthouse.
Of course, there's an unwritten rule that very long films - this one is just under three hours - carry more weight than the more conventionally timed ninety minute ones, which is not always the case, it simply feels like it is as you have to invest far longer with them. However, in this case the boredom of a long road journey can translate into an oddly relaxing experience, perhaps for some viewers because it is sending them to sleep, but in other cases due to the manner in which it replicates the feeling of driving down those country roads with nothing but the landscape passing by to keep your mind occupied.
The almost all-male cast do seem to be relaxed in themselves, maybe a bit too relaxed as Vogler cheerfully takes a shit in the open air at one point and they have no qualms about stripping off either, not something you find necessary unless Wenders was insistent on making this clearly a man's world. The only significant female character is a cashier (Lisa Kreuzer) who Bruno takes a shine to on his travels - at this point Robert has gone off on his own - and you don't feel they have made much of a connection. The other significant women are absent: Robert's troubled wife who he misses but cannot face life with, or his mother who has left his father, or even the images of women who remain distant, from the actresses in a porn film to the occasional pin-up on a wall. It is Bruno who voices their problem near the end, recognising that although they love women, they can never feel they can understand them the way they can men, and once he has acknowledged that, the two friends have nothing more to say to each other. Music by Axel Linstädt.
German director and writer and one of modern cinema's most important European filmmakers. Wenders films tend to blend social commentary with genre material - thrillers, sci-fi, fantasy. It was his acclaimed "road movies" of the mid-seventies - Alice in the Cities, Wrong Move and the epic Kings of the Road that first brought him international attention. 1977's The American Friend was a post-modern thriller starring Bruno Ganz, and although the making of Hammett was a difficult experience, he won his greatest acclaim for the moving drama Paris, Texas, written by Sam Shepherd.
1987's Wings of Desire was another triumph, and if he's yet to equal those classics, subsequent work has at least been a series of fascinating failures. Until the End of the World was an ambitious sci-fi piece, Faraway, So Close sequalised Wings of Desire, while The End of Violence, Million Dollar Hotel and Land of Plenty were dark, offbeat dramas. Wenders' film Don't Come Knocking was written by and starring Sam Shepherd, while Submergence was a globetrotting romance based on a bestselling novel. His best recent work have in fact been documentaries, including the The Soul of a Man for Martin Scorsese's Blues series and the Oscar-nominated Buena Vista Social Club.