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Anyone who loves 'Until the End of the World' -- for the way it looks, sounds, and feels first, and then for its ideas -- should feel no differently about this short film made around the same time, which is a sliver from the same pie. Wenders even uses at least one of the same locations (if my judgment here is correct).
Like UtEotW, this is a work of its time, though fortunately it's around this time that pop culture pretty much ceased to age badly. With the new century (and millennium) less than a decade away, Wenders' snapshots of the worry and excitement (and resignation) of a global culture bracing itself for the shock of the new are perhaps paralleled only by the later work of Krzysztof Kieslowski. Wenders is mindful of a planet increasingly dense with the imagery of corporate branding, electronic technology, and the impersonal shapes and lines of modern commerce. But he doesn't brood about it; rather, he uses this cold, neon new world as a playground. 'Until the End of the World' saw Solveig Dommartin jet- setting across a heavily commercialized near-future on a supply of stolen loot, in a jet-black wig that seemed encased in proverbial quotation marks. Here, we have Rudiger Vogler in a bear costume, dancing a jig, and Wim Wenders in a Santa suit, filming him via handicam, on a foggy night at a BP filling station.
Later, Russian tourist Anna Vronskaya's minivan becomes its own microcosm of a global village, as she, her children, Wenders and Vogler, and a hitch-hiking Vietnamese family sing along to... Nick Cave's "The Weeping Song." As always, Wenders' taste in music is superb. Particularly if you share that taste, you can lose yourself in a sequence like this.
This sequence, and this film, may not have a great deal to say, unlike 'Until the End of the World,' but the upside is, those whose enjoyment of 'Until the End of the World' was cut short by its occasional ponderousness (I didn't mind) will find this much easier to take. In a way, 'Arisa' is an abstraction of UtEotW's beatific, rock-infused style (one which would dominate Wenders' work from 'Wings of Desire' to date). UtEotW was a notoriously difficult shoot, and 'Arisha' doubtless was a breezy little departure from the stresses of a major, wayward production. That's the sense I got watching it, yet Wenders still wanders the realm of some of the themes he explores in UtEotW, 'The End of Violence,' and to some extent in 'Lisbon Story' -- namely, the way this new world, and its emerging technologies, threatens to isolate us even from those in close physical proximity. This is more directly confronted in his features -- Bill Pullman's computer conferences in 'The End of Violence,' and Dommartin's imprisonment inside her own dreams in UtEotW -- but it's still evoked here (Vronskaya's laptop, Wenders' handicam, forcing him into a "secondhand reality"), and fleetingly triumphed over (the Nick Cave sing-along, encounters with Croatian refugees, and the overall communal attitude). But finally, the paths diverge; Vogler, on his locomotive, goes one way, and Vronskaya and family, in their minivan, go another, with Wenders -- still dressed as Santa -- stranded in between.
It's a lovely closing image, and this short film is pure bliss, as well as a playful affirmation of Wenders' singular bighearted cool.
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