Review: Stroszek (1977)

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Don’t ever get involved with a prostitute, it’s like getting involved with a porn star, only she makes nowhere near as much money and doesn’t have medical!

Written By: Werner Herzog
Directed By: Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog certainly has a way about him, I don’t think I’ve ever come across such a unique filmmaker. There are filmmakers I consider better, or whose movies I look forward to more or know I will enjoy more, but Herzog continues to rise up my favorites because of his incredible uniqueness. This is usually through meditation on life, and while that could be said about Stroszek, it’s also a much more straight forward tale than what I have seen from Herzog so far. Gone are the musings on existence and man’s place in the world. Enter a slice of life story that is as absurd as it is touching, as banal as it is fascinating and as normal as it is unique.

The basic story of Stroszek is a simple one, one that epitomizes the American dream. A group of people want a better life, so without any real thought they flee Germany to America and wind up in the frozen plains of Wisconsin. There is a dramatic story shift that takes place when the story transfers locales, at first it’s so subtle you don’t even realize it has happened. No matter how bad things got for Bruno or Eva in Germany, it was still home, they always had somewhere to go and a sense of where they were and who they were. America removes all of that and replaces it with a fake kindness. It’s not that any of the Americans we meet are bad people, they decidedly aren’t (well, maybe the truckers are but I would argue that even they aren’t that bad). What the Americans do is they mask everything under a veil of kindness. The banker comes to take Bruno’s home and he has an awkward smile on his face. The mechanic and his Indian helper joke about having sex with Eva and ignore Bruno’s pain, but they do so in a kind manner. Bruno is right that in Germany people beat them up physically, but in America people are beating them up spiritually and causing more pain than he can bare. Eva can’t bare it either, but unlike Bruno she lacks the ability to try and hold on to the situation, so she flees.

Some people have stated that Stroszek is very anti-American in its view, but I didn’t get that vibe from the film. If anything I thought it was much harder on German culture. From the abusive pimps, to the system that spits Bruno out and wants nothing to do with him, to Bruno, Eva and Scheitz themselves who foolishly believe three people can come to America and make it big just because they want to. The American kindness and the falseness that can lay at the core of the American Dream is also given its share of a beating, but so is the German way of life and thinking. In essence, Stroszek doesn’t have anything bad to say about any one nation, but about society as a whole.

Herzog’s view of humanity in Stroszek is not a kind one, and nothing emphasizes this more than the final animal show/ski lift sequence. I believe the animals are supposed to represent us and somewhere out there someone continues to put money in the machine that operates us and we go around and around with no real control over what happens to us. Each and every one of us is stuck in our own tiny prison and no matter what we may do we can’t escape it. Bruno’s ride on the ski lift represents that, he wants to escape the situation, escape what has happened to him, escape America, escape Eva leaving him, but the lift continues to bring him back to the same starting point and it always will.

The above sounds quite pessimistic, and Stroszek is a downtrodden film in its views and themes. The cinematography both enhances that pessimism and works against it. Thomas Mauch shows us a beautiful world, one that should provide some sort of escape or reprieve, because no world as beautiful as ours should be a prison. At the same time Herzog and Mauch show the desolation of the American plains, the ugliness that lay beneath all the beauty. Each and every uplifting image or moment of Stroszek is accompanied by an equally depressing image or moment.

The one facet of Stroszek that stops the film from ever reaching coma level depression is the titular character of Bruno Stroszek as portrayed by Bruno S.. He is the focal point for so many absurdly funny moments in Stroszek, such as the armed robbery of the barber, the early sequences in Germany where his speech pattern alone makes him amusing and his general jovial nature. Yet, when he needs to Bruno shifts his naturalistic performance into another gear. The model as a prison that he shows Eva is a heart wrenching scene because for the first time Bruno is being as serious as he can be and opening up to Eva completely and she doesn’t react to this like we hope she will.

As I continue to discover the works of Werner Herzog I am more and more enamored with the man. He tells stories that I find interesting, he can make me laugh, make me question god, make me feel sympathy, most of all he makes me care. I care about the situations and characters he creates. Stroszek is a deeply affecting film because of its honesty, its humor and its sadly true to life ending wrapped in absurd clothes. The Herzog films I have seen thus far aren’t just movies, they are experiences and Stroszek is another experience every movie fan needs to undertake.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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One response to “Review: Stroszek (1977)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 2! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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