Paris, Texas (1984) (R)

It begins with a sole figure emerging in the dusty terrain of Texas. In the first shot, we are reminded of how John Ford managed to capture the intensity and the isolation of the landscape. There is great beauty to it, but there is also great uneasiness.
The man walks across the plains, holding in in his hand an almost empty gallon jug of water. He drains the last few drops, screws on the lid and walks off into the distance. He stumbles across a little shop that appears to be literally based in the middle of no where. Walking into the house-like building he finds a bar...all he wants is water. The best he can get is a few ice cubes, which he eagerly crunches down on before he passes out, hitting the ground loudly.
When he regains consciousness, he is on a table being examined by a doctor. This man never ceases to talk, but the man from the desert doesn't say a word.
Finding a phone number in the man's wallet, the doctor calls said number and accidentally reunites a family.
As constantly dreary and dreadfully lonesome "Paris, Texas" is, the film is actually about reconciliation, forgiveness, and new beginnings...and those softer touches are given to us by Win Wenders, the director, who is considered a great artist and it shows why here.
For much of the movie there is an achingly poignant portrayal of family, for some of the movie it's just the dry, dusty terrain.
Wenders isn't afraid to take those long pauses, those awkward moments that stretch out, for that he should be credited...though in all fairness, I don't think it works perfectly here.
The walking man is now identified as Travis, although he refuses to say a single word. His brother is called and he flies down to pick up a sibling he had long since thought was dead.
Travis had vanished four years ago, everyone thought he either wanted nothing to do with his family anymore or he was in a ditch somewhere covered in petrol on fire (if you got that reference, you are amazing).
When Walt, his brother, gets to the small town Texan hospital where Travis was being treated, he finds that his brother has wandered off again, walking into the distance with great purpose. Walt tracks down his brother who acts like a caged animal when confronted. He doesn't want to get in the car, he doesn't speak and when left alone, he wanders off again.
Mute for a good thirty minutes into the movie, I was reminded of the musings of Michael from "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover" in which he references a movie where the main character doesn't speak for the first thirty minutes. "The Cook..." was made in 1989 and this was made in 1984, could it be the same movie? Perhaps. Does it matter? Not really.
Moving on...
Travis does eventually speak, though he doesn't truly understand what to say. His communication skills have suffered from whatever happened those four years. Walt and his wife Anne have been raising Travis' child as their own...his reappearance will make for some interesting conversations.
Perhaps the best facet of the movie is Harry Dean Stanton's performance as Travis. Internalizing all his emotions, hell-bent on a whim, desolate and full of emotion, everything you see is in his eyes.
"Paris, Texas" has a sweet-sour ending. It seems to be happy, but it also makes you wonder what the whole point of it was. Certainly we have growth, certainly everyone is happier outwardly by the end of the that good enough?
"Paris, Texas" is a movie by an artist, but it isn't enthralling enough to be great.

Score: ★★★

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