Let me state the obvious: 9/11 threw this country into crisis. Leave it to German filmmaker Wim Wenders to hold a mirror up to America, particularly his home of Los Angeles. Land of Plenty brings together two extremely divergent, but perhaps not irreconcilable, strands of the post-9/11 American psyche.

Paul (John Diehl) is a grizzled Vietnam vet. Jaded and paranoid, he spends his days as a surveillance vigilante in the hopes of protecting America from anything in a turban. Lana (Michelle Williams) is his estranged niece. Eternally hopeful, trusting, and devoutly Christian, she finds herself trying to make a difference at a homeless shelter and reconnect with her freaky uncle. They witness a homeless Pakistani murdered before their eyes and embark on a roadtrip with very different motives. Lana wants to find the man's brother and give the body a proper burial. Paul is convinced they're going to find a terrorist sleeper cell. Paul's increasing paranoia finally comes to a head in the deserted arid landscape of Trona, California.

The opening scenes of surveillance really drew me into this film. All the spy technology and Lana's (for some reason surprisingly realistic) laptop/iPod action reminded me of The Conversation and Until The End of the World. The acting is really fantastic, particularly Michelle Williams who shines whenever she's onscreen. I don't doubt for a second that there are wacko vigilantes out there like Paul, but he'd come off as a caricature were it not for John Diel's solid performance.

Ultimately all the right ingredients are here. Fresh, tasty, and necessary. But eventually they blend together and lose some of their charm. The film becomes very plot-driven and concerned with the action, and I found myself waiting for Paul to go nuts and bring the film to a climax. What happens is more complicated, and finally leads to an uncomfrtable but cathartic conversation between Lana and Paul about what happened on September 11, 2001. There was something tenderly sweet and strange seeing two wandering souls talk about that day on the big screen. I'd have liked the film to end on that note, but Wenders goes a bit overboard with a Leonard Cohen song and sudden trip to Ground Zero in NYC. Still, it was a special and satisfying film.

Wenders was on hand to present the M-SPIFF screening and was terribly likable and funny. Here are some tiny muffled video clips. Of note, Wenders said distributors like it and don't mind the liberal message, but they all say the same thing: They don't know how to market it, because it's both liberal and Christian, and those two things don't go together. (WTF?!??!?!) Also the original title of the film was not very catchy: Angst and Alienation in America.Wenders_sm

Wim Wenders introduces the film [MPG, 9.5 MB]

Wim Wenders answers questions [MPG, 9.3 MB]

Wim Wenders on America's freedom and isolation [MPG, 2.3 MB]

April 5, 2005 at 02:13 AM in Film, M-SPIFF | Permalink


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Hi and Greetings from Singapore!
I have just watched "Land" at the Film Festival
here--good attendance, beautiful movie.
Can't agree that the movie might have been
better without the ending. In fact, I like
the self-referentiality ("Million Dollar Hotel"
in the background, desert scenes, etc. "Road
Movie" aspects.)
I write about Wenders, so just a quick thing: what's the copyright situation with your video clips (I mean, Wenders talking about the movie at your showing in MN)? I'd like to
add a few lines to an academic paper I'm thinking
of writing about the film.

Posted by: barnard turner at Apr 25, 2005 2:23:54 AM

Hey Barnard in Singapore -- yes, I'd like to see it again
and perhaps I'll feel differently about the ending.

Feel free to reference or use those video clips,
I'm sure it's no problem for an academic paper.

Posted by: Chuck at Apr 25, 2005 1:46:22 PM