Dir:Wim Wenders. Ger-UK. 2004. 113mins.
WimWenders' Land Of Plenty is a post 9/11 parable that is half politicalpamphlet, half yet another exploration of the director's favourite theme - thestranger in a strange land. But although it is a more controlled exercise thanthe mess that was The Million Dollar Hotel, it does nothing tocontradict those who believe that Wenders best work of the past decade has beenin the field of the music documentary, with Buena Vista Social Club(1998) and The Soul Of A Man (2003).
Ironically,the best thing about his latest film is its bedsit-rock soundtrack, and certaindialogue-less road movie breaks that take us back to the glory days of TheAmerican Friend or The State Of Things. Strong performances by JohnDiehl and Michelle Williams (Prozac Nation, United States Of Leland)sweeten the pill, but only Williams (who is starring in Ang Lee's upcomingcowboy epic, Brokeback Mountain) can move more than half a buck at thebox office.
Thefilm's liberal message and exposure of the perils of "homeland security" maystrike chords in this US election year, but Land Of Plenty is likely toplay best in traditional European urban markets (Ocean Films in France andMikado in Italy boarded at an early stage), among those dedicated, no-longer-youngcinephiles who are still prepared to give Wenders a sporting chance. It playedat Toronto after competing in Venice.
Ascript that feels like it is fresh from some film school brainstorming sessionhinges on the collision of two characters: Lana, a young American-born womanwho grew up in Africa and Palestine with her missionary parents; and her unclePaul, a liberal-hating Vietnam vet (damaged, of course, by the chemical weaponsand the trauma), who spends his days tailing suspicious Arabs in hisfully-equipped surveillance van.
Anxiousto see the homeland she never really knew, Lana returns to Los Angeles, butcomes face to face with the underbelly of the American dream in the inner-citymission for the homeless that she helps out in. As the pastor who looks afterher says, in one of the film's many message-laden lines, "the last thing theytalk about in the West Wing is poverty in America".
Incharting the slow unravelling of Paul's paranoid fantasies about the Arabthreat, Wenders is planting a flag for tolerance; but with its almost pleadingtone, Land Of Plenty is preaching tothe converted at least as much as Fahrenheit 9/11; and it does so withfar less energy and verve. Paul's miltaristic delusions generate moments ofcomedy; but these sit precariously on the film's earnest, heart-on-sleevefoundations. Innocent, tender but determined, Lana is a calming foil; andWilliams is nothing if not watchable.
But in the end, it's onlywhen the action moves out of LA into the Californian desert that Wenders hitshis lyrical stride, capturing, with the help of cinematographer Franz Lustig,the savage, burnt out beauty of the landscape, which is hardly touched byfragile and irrelevant human encampments like the borax-mining town of Trona.This late spurt is not nearly enough, though, to lift Land Of Plentyonto the arthouse classics shelf.
Prod cos: Reverse Angle, InDigEnt
Int'l sales: IFC (Eng-lang),HanWay (rest of world)
Prods: In-Ah Lee, Samson Mucke,Gary Winick, Jake Abraham
Scr: Michael Meredith, WimWenders
Cine: Franz Lustig
Prod des: Nathan Amondson
Ed: Moritz Laube
Music: Thom & Nackt
Main cast: Michelle Williams,John Diehl, Shaun Toub, Wendell Pierce, Richard Edson