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Lisbon Story

Lisbon Story
1994 / Color / 1:78 anamorphic widescreen / 104 min. / Viagem a Lisboa / Street Date November 20, 2007 / 19.98
Starring Rüdiger Vogler, Patrick Bauchau, Joel Cunha Ferreira, Sofia Bénard da Costa, Teresa Salgueiro
Cinematography Lisa Rinzler
Art Direction Zél Branco
Film Editor Peter Pryzgodda, Anne Schnee
Original Music Jürgen Knieper, Madredeus
Produced by Paulo Branco, Ulrich Felsberg, Wim Wenders
Written and Directed by Wiim Wenders

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Huzzah to Lionsgate for releasing this quality DVD of Lisbon Story, a quirky Wim Wenders film that I feared would never become available in a decent release. Wenders followed his extremely successful Wings of Desire with an expensive dream project that unfortunately was a box office failure, Until the End of the World. After trying a sequel to Wings, Faraway So Close!, Wenders concocted this very small-scale effort in Lisbon. Perhaps the result of connections made while filming Until, which used Lisbon as a location, Lisbon Story highlights the Portuguese band Madredeus and features the return of Rüdiger Vogler, one of Until's more lovable actors. Until the End of the World was structured around its terrific soundtrack; Lisbon Story's performance aspect points the way to Wenders' later Buena Vista Social Club, a full-on documentary about the fading of Cuban music under the U.S. embargo.


Berlin soundman Philip Winter (Rüdiger Vogler) drives to Lisbon with his equipment, but his car doesn't quite survive the trip. He arrives at a house rented by his best pal, director Friedrich Monroe (Patrick Bachau), ready to record sound for the film Monroe is making. But when Monroe doesn't show up, Winter spends his time meeting the local kids and collecting audio to match the footage he finds by Monroe's projector. He ends up at the same locations Monroe did, and begins to suspect that something has happened to his best friend. In the meantime, Winter strikes up a friendship with members of the band Madredeus, who are recording songs for the proposed movie. He's especially charmed by Teresa Salgueiro, the band's attractive singer.

Lisbon Story is a pleasant but not entirely satisfying show. Rüdiger Vogler plays the Philip Winter character for a third time, but has changed his vocation from detective to movie sound man. He roves about Lisbon collecting audio, and his 'investigations' lead only to a few speeches about film theory. Despite the vaguely "Third Man" story structure no conspiracy is uncovered, as in a previous movie about an audio recordist, Brian De Palma's Blow Out. In Until the End of the World Philip Winter was said to specialize in finding lost children, and this movie's soundman Winter befriends several cute Portuguese kids (The name "Zé" is short for "José") while tracking one older boy who keeps avoiding him. Winters plays a 'sounds like" game with the kids as he demonstrates his Foley sound-making box of tricks. Wenders also shows Winter's on-location recording in enough detail to make us aware of how sound can bring pictures to life.

The strikingly original-sounding band Madredeus confirms Lisbon Story's desire to be free of melodramatic story constraints. Old Rock 'n' Roll movies found silly pretexts to involve performers, and Wenders doesn't try to disguise the artifice. Winter just wanders into a rehearsal and begins a chaste flirtation with the lead singer, Teresa Salgueiro, who plays herself. Unfortunately, as the relationship proceeds only to a couple of handshakes and flirtatious looks, the musical interludes function to some extent as 'pleasant padding.' For fans of Madredeus, they may be the prime reason to buy Lisbon Story.

The movie pays off with more verbal debate about moviemaking, which seems unsatisfying no matter how clever the presentation. Friedrich Monroe is making a movie with an ancient hand-cranked camera, and Winters is enchanted by the hand-made B&W images.  1 When he finally finds the director, (Spoiler) Winter discovers that he's abandoned the film project. Instead, Monroe is furtively recording hours of Hi-8 video with hidden cameras, or a camera strapped to his back. Monroe's idea is to remove himself from the cinematic equation and record random reality without directing anything. Winter has seen some of the kids running around with tiny Hi-8 cameras doing this, apparently on Monroe's instructions.

(spoiler) Winter has been reading Monroe's poetry books while soaking up the local atmosphere. Like a filmic Sam Spade, he tells the director off in no uncertain terms. All of this crummy video nonsense, with the ugly electronic images and Monroe's onanistic intellectual rationalizations, is a lot of rubbish. Monroe is an excellent visual artist and to withhold himself from his films is as foolish as hiding out like a criminal.  2

Wenders' film celebrates the filmmaking spirit; that's really all there is to it. The Lisbon location and the participation of the music group are arbitrary, if pleasing, elements. Winter is an affable companion in a film with a distinct shortage of real characterization. It gets by on its genial attitude, but ultimately isn't all that memorable.

Lionsgate's DVD of Lisbon Story is a beauty, an enhanced widescreen encoding that flatters the film's beautiful cinematography. Audio is just as clear and the musical sections are a great listen, which will be good news to the film's vocal fans. The audio is in German, English and Portuguese, with a choice of English or Spanish subtitles. The disc has no extras.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Lisbon Story rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: November 16, 2007


1. The ancient camera looks suspiciously like the one used to film 1995's Lumière et compagnie, the filmic celebration of the hundredth anniversary of the movie camera. Wenders offered his own contribution to this multi-director effort.

2. Because he's become fixated on the instant gratification of the small video recording device, Monroe can also be construed as suffering from the same 'disease of images' that affects the dream addicts of Until the End of the World. His desire to 'remove himself' from the cinematic equation smacks of the kind of questionable experiementation seen in Lars von Trier's recent The Boss of It All.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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