The famous seaside walkway in Cannes – the Croisette – has been stampeded this year by the horses of the apocalypse. We’ve had famine, disease, war and rape in a very high quality but rather grim selection of subject matter dealt with by the films in the official competition. The Palermo Shooting – the film by Wim Wenders I’ve just seen this evening is no different. Death is once again a central theme. And yet the way in which Wenders deals with the subject matter is so totally different that it feels as though a fresh wind has just blown through Cannes. Wenders’ film tells the story of forty year-old photographer – Finn – who is smacked in the face by the mother of all mid life crises. Amidst glitzy photo shoots with Milla Jovovitch (playing herself), vintage cars and a bona fide rock n’ roll lifestyle, Finn, played by Die Toten Hosen’s Campino (one of the most outrageously attractive men I’ve ever lusted after on screen) starts dreaming of clocks marking the time passing in his superficial existance. He can no longer see beneath the surface of his glitzy lifestyle. His life is tranformed by a near miss car accident in which he logically should have ended up pasted all over the tarmac. This brush with death enhances his existential angst and, after one last minimalistic photo shoot with Milla in Palermo, he decides to stay on in Sicily, increasingly drawn by the mysterious and somehow calming atmosphere of the city in which death is an everyday part of life. The strange dreams continue and Finn’s problems get worse when a mysterious bowman starts taking pot shots at him, shooting arrows which at first just miss their target but then hit him square in the chest. Or do they? He meets a guardian angel (Wenders is big on angels) in the form of Flavia, an Italian artist who restores the magnificent old frescos in Palermo’s crumbling buildings. He decides to confront the mysterious bowman head on and finds himself face to face with Death himself played by no other then Dennis Hopper. And Death is not happy. In the central set piece scene of the film, Death explains to Finn that he is not to be feared, but is part of life, part of each and every one of us. He simply suffers from, as Hopper delicately puts it “an image problem” and asks Finn if he can photograph him in an attempt to put this right.
The film is aesthetically gorgeous – the first part dealing with the designer, chrome and glass lifestyle of a fashion photographer contrasting beautifully with the muted terracottas of the scenes in Palermo. One can’t help thinking of Roeg’s ‘Don’t Look Now’ in the sense that the main character travels to Italy to confront death – albeit with very different outcomes. Finns’ dream sequences are nicely surreal with a kind of Magritte-esque anxiety to them. Campino’s portayal of Finn is beautifully judged with wry self-awareness and flashes of dry humour. And although Finn’s brush with Death is a salutory experience, we come out of the film having witnesses a celebration of life. Live each day as though it were your last and cherish your mortality is the message here. The film also features one of the best soundtracks I have ever heard. So although I have little hope that Wim Wenders will walk away with the big prize, he gets MY Palme d’Or for a barmstorming return to form.
Any love out there for Wim Wenders? Who’s a fan?