Dir: Werner Herzog, 1977. Starring Bruno S., Eva Mattes, Clemens Scheitz. Foreign.

Stroszek is the story of a man living in a world where he doesn't fit in. The film’s lead character, Stroszek, is a 45-year old German street musician who lacks the common everyday living and social skills that it takes to get by in life. At the beginning of the film Stroszek is released from prison after serving time for flagrancy and public drunkenness. With his new found freedom he goes straight into a bar and orders a beer. This is where we first meet another social misfit and friend of Stroszek, the prostitute Eva. As Stroszek adjusts to his new life he begins to encounter the harshness of the outside world. Eva’s pimp begins to terrorize and abuse her for what appears to be the mere fun of it. Stroszek, Eva, and Stroszek’s senile neighbor Scheitz, unable to defend themselves, decide to leave the country and sail to America, the land of opportunity.

With the promise of work and a place to live the three of them make their way to Wisconsin to live with a long lost relative of Scheitz. The journey is exciting and promising as they arrive in New York City, and their arrival in Wisconsin is even more joyous. Stroszek gets a job working in a mechanics’ garage, Eva gets a job as a waitress at a local truck stop, and with a loan from the bank they buy a deluxe mobile home with all the modern amenities. All is happy in the world for the moment, but Stroszek soon begins to worry when bank payments they can’t afford start coming in. The situation then goes from bad to worse for Stroszek who eventually reaches the end of his rope in a dingy diner located on a small Indian Reservation. This is where the film reaches it emotional and bizarre conclusion.

Stroszek is a film that has a very raw and realistic feel to it. Although there are parts that are highly stylized, the overall film has a documentary like feel. It is from the use of non-actors, real locations, and natural lighting that this is achieved. The sets have a tossed about look to them, reflecting the disorder that is Stroszek’s life. The locations are cold and claustrophobic as if they are imprisoning the characters. Throughout the whole film there’s a feeling that we are on this journey with these characters and we see and feel what they do. Though it's minimal the mise en scene is very affective.

The film was shot on 35mm which gives the film a grainy, muted look, almost like the film was shot in a perpetual overcast. Throughout the movie the camera changes from stationary shots to hand-held shots. Always an intuitive director, Werner Herzog has the camera follow his characters, capturing a moment that seems to be spontaneous and unexpected. He also likes to alternate between grand wide shots and extreme close ups, which relates to a motif in the film, showing a tiny delicate image and then juxtaposing it with the expansive harsh world it inhabits. Then there are the simple yet poetic shots, such as the reflection of the sunset in a car window. And in the final scene the camera watches and follows Stroszek almost as if it is as baffled as we are.

It’s hard to describe how the final scene of Stroszek affected me because it’s the whole film, Stroszek’s journey, that leads up to this moment and you can’t fully experience the end without the middle and beginning. But it’s this ending scene that touches me the most. After seeing all the real life pain and rejection that Stroszek encounters throughout the film, the ending is like a free fall into the absurd abyss. I see Stroszek’s final act as a rejection of "normal life," a single man’s rebellion against something that he cannot possibly alter or address. But it’s this useless rebellion that breaks my heart. In the diner you can see it in his eyes. He is a defeated man, he knows it, he doesn’t understand it, but at the same time he’s been expecting it and there is something intrinsically sad about that.

But it’s not just Stroszek that affects me, it's what the director shows us with this scene. Stroszek hardly looks at the dancing animals in their cages as he passes, but the camera does. And as Stroszek disappears from the lens' view the dancing chicken is center stage until the very end. Now how do I relate to a dancing chicken? Well, lets break it down easy. It’s an animal in a cage. Who likes being locked in a cage? It’s tricked into dancing for others' entertainment. Who likes to be put on display against their will? And possibly, the poor chicken is too stupid to realize how it’s abused and manipulated, its mind only on the moment at hand and its kernel of corn reward. And what terrifies me even more is what if the chicken actually likes it? What if it loves to dance mindlessly until it falls over dead? In the end we just don’t know, but I think this is what Herzog was going for. The image over the subtext. And to quote the man himself, "sometimes a dancing chicken is just a dancing chicken."

Posted by:
Eric Kench
Nov 3, 2010 2:11pm
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