Movie Magazine International

Lisbon Story

Germany/Portugal - 1994

Movie Review By Andrea Chase

Wim Wender's "Lisbon Story" is something that I'd never imagined a German film could be. Whimsical. It's a beefy, Teutonic brand of whimsy, to be sure, but there it is, nonetheless.

The film begins in dark and gloomy Berlin with Phil, a consummate sound-man, receiving a sun-drenched postcard from his old pal Fritz, a filmmaker. The enigmatic message begs Phil to come to Portugal and save his latest film.

It's irresistible. Phil heads south with determination that neither a temperamental car nor a broken leg can quell. When he arrives, Fritz's gone and not only do none of his friends know where he might be, they also don't seem particularly worried about him. Phil finds Fritz's last film footage, shot using an antique camera, and runs it looking for clues. Soon he's caught up in an eccentric world of teeny-bopper cinephiles, determined mosquitoes, and a lovely chanteuse, played by Teresa Salgueiro of the group Madredeus, who also perform the film's hypnotic score.

What begins as a contemporary, light-hearted re-telling of Graham Greene's "The Third Man" takes a sharp left turn becoming a fluffy version of Conrad's "Heart of Darkness." Only instead of going quietly mad in a steamy, bug-infested jungle, this Kurtz has pondered too long on the true meaning of filmmaking and invented his own loopy solution to the conflict between art and commerce.

Wender's is subtle in telling this story. He nails down mood with perfectly framed shots. He knows exactly how long to linger to capture the moment and the plot arc as a whole. This is why he's able to visually demonstrate the joy of sound as the camera follows Phil, played by rubber-lipped Rudiger Volger, exploring the streets of Lisbon armed with boom mike and tape recorder. Where you and I might take snapshots, this die-hard sound-man, in blissful if quiet rapture, tapes soundshots of the city's hubbub.

As for the joy of filmmaking, and creativity, for that matter, "Lisbon Story" sums that up with a fanciful cameo by writer/director Manoel De Oliveira, acting out his exposition on the subject.

"Lisbon Story" uses a Portuguese and German cast, speaking very marketable English. Perhaps, this is Wender's balancing act between art and commerce.

© 1998 - Andrea Chase - Air Date: 1/7/98

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