To call Wim Wenders a ‘maker’ of films would be unsubtle – his role as an auteur is a lot more delicate and discerning in nature; he is a poet of cinema, an analyst of the human soul. And, in what seems to be a pattern for this type of directors – his films continue to tackle gradually larger, loftier subjects over time; subjects of cosmic importance; questions as old as the beginning of time.
In his latest feature, The Beautiful Days of Aranjuez – a man and woman (Reda Kateb, Sophie Semin) sit in a gorgeous terrace in the middle of a hot summer day, having a lengthy, impassioned conversation. It’s not a regular dialogue: the pair seem to be playing a strange, slightly twisted game of questions and answers. There are unspoken rules, topics of taboo, and often uncomfortable truths that surface with pain, bafflement or sadness.
While the unnamed pair talk about sexual experiences, childhood and memories, they are being watched, or, as enigmatically implied by Wenders, imagined, by a mysterious, fidgety writer. Sitting in front of his old-fashioned typewriter, he steers the conversation of the couple, quietly mouthing the words they exchange between each other and struggling to overcome a persistent writer’s block. He knows as much of where the story is going as we do. Every now and then, between the sweating and worrying, he feverishly exclaims: “What next!?”, mirroring our own guessing game.
The conversation, which is the core of the film, is quite full-on: the pauses are scarce, the ambiguous, cryptic contemplations – dense. While some are incredibly perceptive and make your heart skip a bit with their piercing sincerity – others can drag on for what feels like hours and, by the end of the film, verge on the brink of tedium. The monotony is made worse by the constant nursery rhyme-like repetition of the relentless notion of ‘no love is happy’, that the director is adamant on leaving as with as the main theme.
Fortunately, it is perfectly fine to intermittently zone out during those periods of dullness, as you can sit back and take in the stunning visuals and sumptuous diegetic sound of the film: Wenders amplifies every little crack of a dried leaf, a gust of air, or a character licking their lips between their lines, building a string of wonderfully seamless, spine-tingling, mood-setting tones.
And if the promise of lulling sounds of natural surroundings doesn’t sound like enough of a reason to put up with the occasional existential, lyrical boredom – Nick Cave performing ‘Into My Arms’ on the piano will surely make it all worth it in the end.