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The American Friend (1977)

Der amerikanische Freund (original title)
Not Rated | | Crime, Drama, Mystery | 28 September 1977 (France)
Tom Ripley, who deals in forged art, suggests a picture framer he knows would make a good hit man.




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Cast overview, first billed only:
Raoul Minot
Der Amerikaner
Peter Lilienthal ...
Sandy Whitelaw ...
Arzt in Paris
Freundlicher Mann
Andreas Dedecke ...
David Blue ...
Allan Winter
Stefan Lennert ...


Tom Ripley has a sweet deal with an art forger. The forger creates the paintings; Tom sells them. But another criminal business associate wants Tom to go in for an even riskier enterprise: murder. Tom suggests his associate ask a local picture framer instead. That man has a fatal disease, or so it's rumored. More, he has a wife and kid that surely he wouldn't want to leave penniless. Let this picture framer be a hit man, and no one will suspect. The terminally ill craftsman may agree to the misdeed, and several more, but he'll end up needing Tom Ripley in a pinch. Written by J. Spurlin

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Not Rated | See all certifications »

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Release Date:

28 September 1977 (France)  »

Also Known As:

The American Friend  »

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DEM 3,000,000 (estimated)

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Aspect Ratio:

1.66 : 1
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Did You Know?


Bruno Ganz worked in a frame shop for weeks to prepare for his role as a frame shop worker. See more »


[first lines]
Derwatt: Who is it?
Tom Ripley: It's Ripley.
Derwatt: The door is open.
See more »


References The General (1926) See more »


Nothin' in the World Can Stop Me Worryin' 'Bout That Girl
The Kinks
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User Reviews

The karmic friend
7 August 2011 | by (Greece) – See all my reviews

I'm pretty sure by now that Wenders is not a filmmaker for me to adopt. He tends to process appearances too much, while grasping in the blind what lies behind them. So, what's left is a synthetic beauty of images framed around space and usually a moderately above-par wrap-around into narrative. Oh, surely he's one of the most talented cinematographers we have. I guess that's enough to appreciate in one filmmaker.

But all that is refuted by this film. I'm not sure how much it is that I bring to it, but no matter. It is one of the greatest narratives on karma.

It's all tied together between these two people; one who lives in emptiness, another - a frame artist, charged with restoring - who works in form. Together, these two figments, comprise the one consciousness. Indeed, Wenders often frames them as dual counterpoints that complete into one.

An artist is who he is, because he trusts the eye, the hand. Ripley is who he is, a hollow shell, because he trusts neither. So, we have the frame artist become framed inside an illusion operated by the other, a narrative that unfolds as gangster stuff around Europe. It's a wonderful film-within device; the movie illusion generated by the deceived mind's eye (he sees a telegram, but is it what he thinks?).

Wenders is such a distinctly Western filmmaker though. Notice the notions. Ripley is empty, but empty in the sense that something essentially vital is missing. And the artist is not replenished by his work in form but frustrated for ambition and money, again our Occidental idea where an artist's worth measures in success and not the joy of work itself. It is a world reeled in by craving for things that are not there, implying a dissatisfaction with what is.

Empty space is the balancing element, where we can flow into for release. It's magical in the two scenes of crime, extended wanderings in a subway and onboard a train, silent like Melville would have it. Le Samourai seems to be the inspiring visual text. It is about walls that enclose - whereupon we track and lose and find again, and life becomes this game of hide-and-seek,

The poignant revelation of karmic wheels? Near the end, when Ripley reveals why the scheme, why the hapless stooge was dangling on unseen strings the whole time. However far-fetched it may seem or paint Ripley in a diabolic light, it is all about sowing seeds. And for Ripley as well, who realizes only too late that what completes him (who can, forgive the literal word play, 'frame', thus contain, his emptiness) is the connection with the man whose fate he has already set in motion.

But the thing is this karmic connection that bounds these two together, the setting in motion. Having realized he values the connection, Ripley swoops - like the hand of god - inside the created narrative to assist him. Eventually, the connection is shown to wire them together across space, implying now a metaphysical communion.

It's this that may keep the film at a distance; although effective in the sequences that resemble a thriller, it is a film metaphysically heavy and long with silence. It is not comfortably bittersweet, nor quirky like other Wenders films. This is why I value it so as opposed to those others, because it is a lucid picture.

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