Palermo-Wolfsburg


3h 1980

Film Details

Also Known As
Palermo oder Wolfsburg, Palermo or Wolfsburg
Release Date
1980

Technical Specs

Duration
3h

Synopsis

Film Details

Also Known As
Palermo oder Wolfsburg, Palermo or Wolfsburg
Release Date
1980

Technical Specs

Duration
3h

Articles

Palermo Oder Wolfsburg - PALERMO OR WOLFSBURG - Werner Schroeter's 1980 Arthouse Epic on DVD


Werner Schroeter is one of the least well known of the New German Cinema directors in the West. While fellow filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Margarethe von Trotta were bringing their sensibilities to the screen by bending the dramatic narrative form to their needs, Schroeter was content to explore the non-commercial realm of experimental shorts and fragmentary features through the 1970s and thus his films did not receive the exposure of his colleagues. It wasn't until 1978 that Schroeter made his first "traditional" feature film, The Kingdom of Naples, an ambitious portrait in the life of a neighborhood over several generation that earned Schroeter the Best Director prize at the German Film Awards, his first of three such awards to date.

Palermo or Wolfsburg (1980), his second 35mm feature, returns to the poverty of Sicily explored in The Kingdom of Naples and then follows a young, unemployed man as he moves to Germany to find work. It's a drama of cultural collision and alienation, a simple story with a dense mix of styles and an almost passive figure at the center. Nicola Zarbo, a non-actor with no other recordable screen credits, plays the dutifully religious Sicilian man also named Nicola Zarbo, the eldest son of a widower who dreams of buying the plot of land he works for the local landlord but always behind the rising asking price.

With his father in a perpetual haze of alcohol and self-pity and jobs scarce in his impoverished Palermo, Nicola makes the hard choice to leave his family and friends behind and travel to Wolfsburg, Germany, as a "guest worker." He counts on a distant uncle to help him out but it's the local community of immigrant Italians, notably local pub proprietor Giovanna (Ida Di Benedetto), who step in to help him out. He lands a job at the local Volkswagen plant, a bed in a studio apartment turned into a kind of worker bunkhouse for four, and a young, bubbly and very cute German girlfirend (Brigitte Tig, also her only screen appearance), who seems to like Nicola but is more interested in making her racist German boyfriend jealous. We also get a glimpse at the racism from rootless locals who strangely choose to hang around at the immigrant pub and those brief clashes with the sneering, insulting but never quite violent young men, combined with Nicola's humiliation and rage at being used by the girl, finally come to a fateful collision.

The film plays in three acts over nearly three house, evoking the structure of passion play with Nicola in the central role (Schroeter periodically cuts to scenes from a passion play performed on stage to bring the point home). Schroeder shifts the style for each act, from a gentle neo-realist approach in the village scenes as he makes his farewells to friends and family to more melodramatic style as he finds his way in Wolfsburg (at times it recalls Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, another film about guest workers and prejudice which was surely a reference if not an inspiration) to an increasingly stylized and exaggerated approach for the final act. Set almost entirely in a courtroom, the artificial style plays like a piece of politic theater or a scene from a Hans-Jurgen Syberberg historical pageant (a la Hitler: A Film From Germany). The attorneys become prompters in the debate playing out in the form of a trial, testimonies become monologues of loss and alienation and the social science of immigrant culture, the witnesses transform into exaggerated caricatures out of a fantasy sequence or a paranoid immigrant nightmare and the observers in the courtroom act as a chorus mirroring the theatrical drama with their own mime show, each action executed on cue like a dance routine.

Zarbo is no professional actor and Schroeter clearly cast him for the very qualities that make him stand apart from the rest of the actors. The smiles and easy, unforced amiability of the scenes in Sicily fall away as he gets farther from home, leaving the sleepy demeanor of a trusting, unwary innocent who takes strangers at face value and assumes they all share his Catholic values and unguarded honesty. He becomes more physically passive as his story plays out and the film shifts into a more expressionist mode, finally falling into complete silence during the trial. He's like a holy innocent who gave in to the rage and jealousy and now accepts his penance without a word while alternately striking poses of desperate prayer and collapsing into a state of complete resignation while the rest of the cast tips into aggressive caricature. It makes it hard to identify with the character but Schroeter isn't after an emotional experience but an intellectual engagement, explored with an expressionism that leaves the studied realism of the opening scenes far behind. At times it recalls Fassbinder's work in the seventies, tales of power and manipulation and skewed romance strewn with agitprop and theatrical tableaux, but without the elevated melodrama at the heart of Fassbinder's cinema. This piece of socio-political theater took the top prize at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival, sharing the Golden Bear for Best Film (with Heartland) and becoming the first German film awarded the prestigious prize.

The Facets release, a region-free DVD, is apparently taken directly from a European master, complete with the supplements. The anamorphic presentation looks just fine, well mastered from a commercial film print (the cue dots at the reel ends are readily visible) with minor speckling and scratches and decent color, and it has been formatted at 1.77:1 to fit the 16x9 widescreen TV ratio. The optional English subtitles for the feature are not the default setting and it becomes obvious why the disc sleeve does not list any supplements: the accompanying 10-minute video interview with Werner Schroeter (recorded in 2008) is in German with no English translation, either audio or subtitle.

For more information about Palermo Or Wolfsburg, visit Facets Multimedia. To order Palermo Or Wolfsburg, go to TCM Shopping.

by Sean Axmaker
Palermo Oder Wolfsburg - Palermo Or Wolfsburg - Werner Schroeter's 1980 Arthouse Epic On Dvd

Palermo Oder Wolfsburg - PALERMO OR WOLFSBURG - Werner Schroeter's 1980 Arthouse Epic on DVD

Werner Schroeter is one of the least well known of the New German Cinema directors in the West. While fellow filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Margarethe von Trotta were bringing their sensibilities to the screen by bending the dramatic narrative form to their needs, Schroeter was content to explore the non-commercial realm of experimental shorts and fragmentary features through the 1970s and thus his films did not receive the exposure of his colleagues. It wasn't until 1978 that Schroeter made his first "traditional" feature film, The Kingdom of Naples, an ambitious portrait in the life of a neighborhood over several generation that earned Schroeter the Best Director prize at the German Film Awards, his first of three such awards to date. Palermo or Wolfsburg (1980), his second 35mm feature, returns to the poverty of Sicily explored in The Kingdom of Naples and then follows a young, unemployed man as he moves to Germany to find work. It's a drama of cultural collision and alienation, a simple story with a dense mix of styles and an almost passive figure at the center. Nicola Zarbo, a non-actor with no other recordable screen credits, plays the dutifully religious Sicilian man also named Nicola Zarbo, the eldest son of a widower who dreams of buying the plot of land he works for the local landlord but always behind the rising asking price. With his father in a perpetual haze of alcohol and self-pity and jobs scarce in his impoverished Palermo, Nicola makes the hard choice to leave his family and friends behind and travel to Wolfsburg, Germany, as a "guest worker." He counts on a distant uncle to help him out but it's the local community of immigrant Italians, notably local pub proprietor Giovanna (Ida Di Benedetto), who step in to help him out. He lands a job at the local Volkswagen plant, a bed in a studio apartment turned into a kind of worker bunkhouse for four, and a young, bubbly and very cute German girlfirend (Brigitte Tig, also her only screen appearance), who seems to like Nicola but is more interested in making her racist German boyfriend jealous. We also get a glimpse at the racism from rootless locals who strangely choose to hang around at the immigrant pub and those brief clashes with the sneering, insulting but never quite violent young men, combined with Nicola's humiliation and rage at being used by the girl, finally come to a fateful collision. The film plays in three acts over nearly three house, evoking the structure of passion play with Nicola in the central role (Schroeter periodically cuts to scenes from a passion play performed on stage to bring the point home). Schroeder shifts the style for each act, from a gentle neo-realist approach in the village scenes as he makes his farewells to friends and family to more melodramatic style as he finds his way in Wolfsburg (at times it recalls Fassbinder's Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, another film about guest workers and prejudice which was surely a reference if not an inspiration) to an increasingly stylized and exaggerated approach for the final act. Set almost entirely in a courtroom, the artificial style plays like a piece of politic theater or a scene from a Hans-Jurgen Syberberg historical pageant (a la Hitler: A Film From Germany). The attorneys become prompters in the debate playing out in the form of a trial, testimonies become monologues of loss and alienation and the social science of immigrant culture, the witnesses transform into exaggerated caricatures out of a fantasy sequence or a paranoid immigrant nightmare and the observers in the courtroom act as a chorus mirroring the theatrical drama with their own mime show, each action executed on cue like a dance routine. Zarbo is no professional actor and Schroeter clearly cast him for the very qualities that make him stand apart from the rest of the actors. The smiles and easy, unforced amiability of the scenes in Sicily fall away as he gets farther from home, leaving the sleepy demeanor of a trusting, unwary innocent who takes strangers at face value and assumes they all share his Catholic values and unguarded honesty. He becomes more physically passive as his story plays out and the film shifts into a more expressionist mode, finally falling into complete silence during the trial. He's like a holy innocent who gave in to the rage and jealousy and now accepts his penance without a word while alternately striking poses of desperate prayer and collapsing into a state of complete resignation while the rest of the cast tips into aggressive caricature. It makes it hard to identify with the character but Schroeter isn't after an emotional experience but an intellectual engagement, explored with an expressionism that leaves the studied realism of the opening scenes far behind. At times it recalls Fassbinder's work in the seventies, tales of power and manipulation and skewed romance strewn with agitprop and theatrical tableaux, but without the elevated melodrama at the heart of Fassbinder's cinema. This piece of socio-political theater took the top prize at the 1980 Berlin Film Festival, sharing the Golden Bear for Best Film (with Heartland) and becoming the first German film awarded the prestigious prize. The Facets release, a region-free DVD, is apparently taken directly from a European master, complete with the supplements. The anamorphic presentation looks just fine, well mastered from a commercial film print (the cue dots at the reel ends are readily visible) with minor speckling and scratches and decent color, and it has been formatted at 1.77:1 to fit the 16x9 widescreen TV ratio. The optional English subtitles for the feature are not the default setting and it becomes obvious why the disc sleeve does not list any supplements: the accompanying 10-minute video interview with Werner Schroeter (recorded in 2008) is in German with no English translation, either audio or subtitle. For more information about Palermo Or Wolfsburg, visit Facets Multimedia. To order Palermo Or Wolfsburg, go to TCM Shopping. by Sean Axmaker

Quotes

Trivia

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States 1980

Released in United States April 1981

Released in United States February 1980

Released in United States February 1989

Released in United States 1980

Released in United States April 1981 (Shown at FILMEX: Los Angeles International Film Exposition (Contemporary Cinema) April 2-23, 1981.)

Released in United States February 1989 (Shown at Public Theater in New York City (Retrospective) February 21 & 23, 1989.)

Shown at Berlin Film Festival February 1980.

Released in United States February 1980 (Shown at Berlin Film Festival February 1980.)

Shown at Public Theater in New York City (Retrospective) February 21 & 23, 1989.