English Title: The American Friend
Original Title: Der amerikanische Freund
Country: West Germany, France
Language: German, English, French
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery
Director/Writer: Wim Wenders
based on the novel RIPLEY’S GAME by Patricia Highsmith
Music: Jürgen Knieper
Cinematography: Robby Müller
At the age of 32, a prolific Wim Wenders forays into adapting Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley story to the celluloid screen in his seventh feature, THE AMERICAN FRIEND receives a Cannes main competition entry and stars Dennis Hopper as the self-exile middle-aged Tom Ripley in a cowboy hat living inside a big mansion on his ownsome in Hamburg, partakes in art forgery racket. Nicholas Ray plays a presumedly dead painter Derwatt, sometimes wears an eye-patch, cynically tossing off new works for Ripley to sell in the auction house.
It is where, Ripley meets Jonathan Zimmermann (Bruno Ganz in his big screen breakout role), a painter framer and art restorer, who is diagnosed with a rare blood disease, may or may not be pushing up daisies any day sooner, Jonathan unceremoniously brushes aside Ripley with a curt “I’ve heard of you” (a , the slight triggers the latter’s retaliation (typically Ripley!), by disseminating rumors about the former’s blood condition to be fatal, and recommends Jonathan when a French gangster Raoul Minot (Blain) needs a candidate with a clean slate as a hitman.
Rebuffing Minot’s offer at first, Jonathan naively agrees to have another medical checkup in a Parisian hospital organized by Minot, beyond any doubt, no one would believe that its pessimistic outcome is not doctored by Minot but Jonathan himself, tempted to earn some fast money for his wife Marianne (Kreuzer) and their son Daniel (Dedecke) when he will be gone, he commits his first sortie (conveniently) inside a Paris metro station (albeit drolly clumsy) before heading back to Hamburg.
However, an improbable freemasonry between Ripley and Jonathan burgeons in spite of their prima facie disfavor, Wenders fidgets with multifarious artifacts to smooth the transition, objects like golden foil, zoetrope, stereopticon, gyroscope, Polaroid, etc. suffuse the faintly insipid narrative with its ethos-signalling vim and melancholia, which writs large in Ripley’s solitary existence, e.g. his monologue “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” is manifested not once but twice, infused with lurid chromatic choices in full bloom (red, blue, leaden-gray and green are primal pointers to the mood-scape). Their bond veers into partners-in-crime when Jonathan nearly botches a second mission on a train from Munich to Hamburg if not for Ripley’s sudden succor, and Ripley’s confession as the rumormonger, apparently doesn’t stir Jonathan’s ill-feelings, only leads to a final betrayal after they eliminate their common assailants, that halts with an ironic outcome when mortality suddenly beckons.
Less a genre practitioner than an arch stylist, Wenders meanders through the discomfiting drama with an Edward Hopper-esque commitment to its milieu and surroundings, tonally, it bewitchingly tallies with Tom Ripley’s existential crisis which vaguely stoked by a smack of homoerotic impulse, and Jonathan’s thrill-inflected imprudence. A brooding Bruno Ganz eloquently betrays an enthralling temperament which is buried under Jonathan’s pedestrian appearance, and is affectively unpredictable and sympathetic in the eyes of this beholder. Dennis Hopper has a less prominent screen-time but it is an eye-pleasing experience (on the condition that if we could overlook his unsavory wig during the scenes of the second mission) to watch him not in his trademark menacing mode, but registers something more self-revealing. Lisa Kreuzer, is hindered by a stereotyped suspicious wife role, must put on a strong face against all odds, yet plumbing into a feminine mindset is not Wenders’ forte.
A cineaste’s lollapalooza, with many an auteur taking on his acting gig (Nicolas Ray, Samuel Fuller, Daniel Schmid, Jean Eustache, not to mention actor/director hyphenates Hopper and Blain), THE AMERICAN FRIEND is a testament that Wenders’ faculty is on the verge of its full maturity, not a conventionally cut-throat crime thriller but a nostalgic scenester recapitulating its zeitgeist with a splash of idiosyncrasy and quaintness.
referential points: Wenders’ ALICE IN THE CITIES (1974, 8.0/10), Anthony Minghella’s THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (1999, 8.4/10).