Germany's Wim Wenders has been on the road so long he may have forgotten what country he's from, if he ever knew in the first place. Lisbon Story finds him in the Portuguese capital, which Wenders fans will remember as the location for the sci-fi movie-within-the-movie in 1982's The State of Things. In fact, the director of that sci-fi movie, once again played by Patrick Bauchau, is the reason Wenders' alter ego, Phillip Winter (Wenders veteran Rudiger Vogler), has come to Lisbon. A sound engineer, he's supposed to work on the director's latest project, but where is the director? Winter finds an empty apartment. So, pulling out his boom mike, he starts recording the city's sounds while taking in its sights. And one imagines that Wenders, whom the City of Lisbon commissioned to make this cinematic postcard, worked the same way--not so much discovering the city as allowing the city to discover him. What the City of Lisbon perhaps didn't anticipate was the message Wenders has scribbled on the back of his postcard, something about the cinema having lost its ability to tell the truth now that we're buried under a mountain of images. Early in the film, it appears that every child in Lisbon has a video camera strapped to his or her hand. We learn only later that they're part of the director's very latest project, a conceptualist folly worthy of Godard. They've been shooting whatever fell into their cameras without looking through the viewfinders, and the director intends to pile up all the tapes somewhere, unseen. Only that way can he avoid adding to the cinema's legacy of lies. "Well, whatever presses your Play button," I thought as the director, who finally shows up, reveals his master plan. Lisbon Story can get pretty heavy with the philosophizing, yet usually remains light on its feet.
Some have argued that, without the Berlin Wall to lean on, Wenders has lost the existential schizophrenia that has powered so much of his previous work. And Lisbon Story is certainly sweeter than any Wenders film I can remember; it even manages to say yes to life, in all its dislocated absurdity. I love the scenes, early in the film, when Winter, driving from Germany to Portugal, runs into all sorts of car trouble, including an overheated radiator, which he replenishes with soda pop. Now, why didn't I think of that when I was once similarly stranded on the lonesome road to nowhere and everywhere?