Until the End of the World | Berlinale Special
This last Saturday, the opening day of this year’s Berlin International Film Festival, the “Berlinale“, I had the pleasure of seeing a restored work by Wim Wenders, and among the first in the world on top of that. Until the End of the World was released in 1991 in a severely shortened (at 2.5h) version and it flopped, just the soundtrack sold a million copies (more on that later). The recently launched Wim Wenders Foundation has now digitally restored many of his works, all of them are screening at this year’s Berlinale Hommage track. The shown Director’s Cut of this film is a cool 5 hours long. Not exactly a walk in the park. At the end, Wenders appeared in person and talked a bit about the movie, of which not all too many have heard of, so let’s dive into this world….
Claire (Solveig Dommartin) is living a nihilistic bohemian lifestyle, drifting from party to party, while an impending nuclear satellite impact in the near future of 1999 is threatening to annihilate mankind. She gets bored from partying across Europe and takes a road trip back to Paris, longing for some rest, steadiness, an apartment and quiet time with friends. Driving her so-so boyfriend Eugene Fitzpatrick’s (Sam Neill) limo, she gets into an accident in the middle of France. In the other car are two bank robbers who had just relieved Nice’s bank of a few million. This care crash would trigger a series of events sending her around the world. For a 30 per cent cut, they send Clair with the money to Paris. On the way, she picks up a guy who’s being followed, he introduces himself as Trevor McPhee (William Hurt). They get along well, but it turns out he stole some of that money from her while she was sleeping. Both turned on by him and wanting her money back, she starts tracking him down, just like a head hunter who’s already following him, hired by an Australian Opal mining company which McPhee allegedly robbed. She also hires private eye Winter (Rüdiger Vogler), who has digital equipment to track Trevor across continents… just for him to escape them again and again. Claire starts running out for money, while Chico, one of the robbers, is at Eugene’s and decides to help her out and fly after her. The chase leads this weird alliance from Berlin to Moscow, Beijing, Tokio, San Francisco and eventually to Australia. In expectation of the nuclear fallout, triggered by a possible atmospheric shoot-down of the satellite by the Americans, the group seeks shelter in the outback among the Aboriginals, banded together by the common realization that nothing is at it seemed. Namely, Trevor’s real name is Sam, and he’s the son of an industry spy, whose wife is blind. He developed a set of glasses that could record what is being seen, so Sam traveled the world to gather last impressions from his siblings, for his father to show them to his mother by way of brain wave transmission technology he had developed in his laboratory. A mind-bending technological experiment in the middle of the Australian outback. Apocalyptic atmosphere is in the air, love and despair, music and art, nature and science-fiction
Wim Wenders shot this film for 20 million, in nine countries, more than five languages and an international crew. Until the End of the World is a trip around the world on film, an almost epic cat and mouse game turning into a thought provoking science fiction drama towards the end. Interestingly, the film anticipates a lot of technical developments and gadgets that we know today. At the same time, it’s more or less two or three movies in one. The initial chase after Claire’s car accident, then the race around the world towards the Australian refuge, and ultimately the psychological and experimental final part with the brain experiments. A movie of five hours that could’ve been fine with four hours I think. Wenders takes his time, dives into this world and creates a feeling of familiarity around his characters.
Dommartin reminded me a bit of today’s Carice van Houten, playing some kind of restless femme fatale, chasing after Sam, but not left out of sight by Eugene. William Hurt shines as almost blind “Trevor”, then as Sam ridden by family tragedy. Sam Neill is actually the narrator, as he writes a novel during the movie, which is in itself basically a more polished version of the events in written form. Thus, a lot of what we see on screen, could be just an interpretation of what actually happened.
As mentioned initially, merely the soundtrack was a success. No wonder. Wenders told us he wrote 20 of his favorite musicians and asked for compositions of how their music might sound like in the year 2000. 18 of them answered and delivered mostly amazing music, that make the soundtrack of this movie a real specialty, among them REM, U2 and many more. Click here to get it on Amazon. Thus, the movie is not only a visual experience, but also a musical highlight.
The version Until the End of the World that was shown isn’t entirely new, there have been DVD releases before. But I would advise staying away from it, until this recent restoration find its way onto BluRay. The Wenders Foundation put a lot of time and money into this new transfer, and the movie really looks first rate, which obviously isn’t the case with the 2005 DVD to that extent.
I was quite impressed with this work, despite its lengths. It sports bombastic visuals, it is detailed, made with lots of love, offers first rate locations and exciting musical bits. I am repeating myself, but indeed one hour less might have benefited the movie a lot, especially considering the less exciting and not quite balanced final part. On top of that, I can’t forgive Wenders for not shooting cinemascope. His framing looks like made for 80s television, which strikes me as something very German and of that era. It hurts the movie and diminishes its greatness. But I do recommend the film highly, not just to Wenders fans. Bring some patience, a comfy pair of pants, and tolerance, and you’ll experience quite an adventure.
I will try post some more Berlinale reviews.
Some of the pictures in this article are from the Wim Wenders Foundation, used with permission.