Some films are beautiful beyond plot or scenery and are happy marriages of mood and character, more like tone poems than conventional narratives. One of these rare delights is Wim Wenders' 1984 Paris, Texas, which has just made its DVD debut.
It's a beautifully bittersweet movie following a broken family, a husband and wife who once loved each other so intensely they went mad, and the attempt to forge forgiveness and live again for the sake of the child both had abandoned in their pain. It's about the purgatories we suspend ourselves in and the possibility of redemption for those in our wake. The feelings of punishing regret and an earnest need for rescue are almost palpable, especially as embodied by Harry Dean Stanton (Repo Man, Wild at Heart) as Travis, an emotionally shell-shocked man. A character actor getting a rare shot at a lead, Stanton gives a heartbreaking turn. So often the actor who engages in over-the-top showy histrionics gets the most notice for his work, but Stanton's is a brilliant performance of stillness where almost everything is conveyed through his sad eyes and defeated posture. The emotional climax of the movie, when Travis finds his wife (Nastassja Kinski) in her hiding place, is one of the truly magical moments in cinema, done without swelling strings and a big sloppy kiss but in a slow, quiet monologue staged through one-way glass. The cinematography of Robby Müller (Down by Law) and a sparse score by Ry Cooder (The Buena Vista Social Club) help in singing the film's poetry. Paris, Texas is melancholy but ultimately uplifting in its vision of love, and along with Wings of Desire it is German director Wenders' best work.
Another movie newly on DVD about pain and regret is The Saddest Music in the World, directed by Winnipeg's own Guy Maddin (Tales from the Gimli Hospital), though this one is a comedy...kind of. If you've never seen one of Maddin's flicks, this is as good a place as any to jump in. A heavily stylized parable centered around a legless beer baroness (Isabella Rosellini) and three men of an extremely dysfunctional family (including Mark McKinney of the Kids in the Hall) gathered for a promotional concert contest to sell suds. It's a bizarre, surreal and satirical melodrama of a dark comedy. Try to imagine Franz Kafka meets Salvador Dalí, directed by the bastard lovechild of David Lynch and Ida Lupino, with a script by Preston Sturges and Jim Jarmusch. If you can get your cinematic head around all that, you'll be part of the way to understanding The Saddest Music in the World.