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  • Benjamin May

Stroszek (1977) Review

Bruno is a street performer released from prison in Berlin. In a local pub, he befriends a down-on-her-luck prostitute named Eva, who moves in with him. Her pimps harass and assault them both regularly, forcing their way into Bruno's apartment at one point and trashing the place. After Bruno's elderly friend Herr Scheitz announces his plans to move to Wisconsin, Bruno and Eva decide to accompany him to try and start again in America. However, it turns out their prospects may not be much better stateside, as we see in Werner Herzog's brilliant comic-drama 'Stroszek.'

A powerful, deeply moving film, 'Stroszek' is unique and unforgettable. It is a tender portrait of life on the margins of society that is most affecting. Herzog's characters are profoundly realistic creations and his story is full of poignancy. A movie about shattered dreams and dashed hopes, its themes are universal and its images captivating. At times, the precisely honed film feels improvisational or off-the-cuff; which is a credit to the unaffected nature of Herzog's writing and direction. Though there is a lot of humor in 'Stroszek,' it is ultimately a harrowing drama that speaks volumes about the human condition within our callous world.

'Stroszek' reunites Herzog with cinematographer Thomas Mauch, one of his more frequent collaborators. Mauch's naturalistic approach gives the film a documentary-like feel, which bolsters the faux-authenticity of Herzog's narrative. His juxtaposition of the constricting alleyways and streets of Berlin with the wide-open spaces of Wisconsin is arresting and effective. In the role of cinematographer, Herzog regularly uses Mauch, Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein or Peter Zeitlinger. The work of the latter two generally feature more stylizations and elaborate lighting, and possess a dream like atmosphere. For a human-centered drama like 'Stroszek,' the realism of Mauch's approach is most appropriate, as the haunting beauty of the resulting visuals prove.

The film boasts an atmospheric soundtrack, featuring songs by the likes of Sonny Terry and Chet Atkins. David Lynch has often stated that a successful film is comprised of "sound and image moving together through time," positing that, in scenes, visuals and sounds must complement each other; as they do masterfully throughout 'Stroszek'. Terry's 'Old Lost John' is utilized particularly well in one scene at the end of the film that sticks in the mind long after the credits have rolled (as it evidently did in Herzog's; he would re-use the song decades later to similar effect in 'Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans').

Herzog has said that he doesn't like to "confront" his films alone during the editing stage, and until 1984, Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus assisted him during that process on all his cinematic endeavors. Their work for 'Stroszek' is flawless, and the film has a steady pace that never lets up. Additionally, the set design is muted, though highly detailed. Locations look long lived in, and the grittiness of their appearance adds to the overall narrative impact.

'Stroszek' stars Bruno S as the titular character. Partially inspired by himself, Bruno gives a tour-de-force performance of boundless depth, vulnerability and emotional perspicuity. He is someone you warm to immediately, and has your sympathies throughout. As does Eva Mattes- the only real professional actor involved- co-starring as Eva the prostitute. Her ease of performance and range leaves an indelible impression on the viewer, and you feel she really cares for Bruno. Also worthy of note is Clemens Scheitz's terrific turn as the elderly, comic Herr Scheitz and a troupe of performing chickens; who do most memorable work (despite the intense stupidity of their gaze).

A masterful and understated tragicomedy, 'Stroszek' is vintage Herzog. Boasting an insightful screenplay full of humor and drama in equal measure, the story is heartfelt and speaks of universal human truths. Seamlessly edited and shot with a distinct visual style, the film is timeless and terrific. Strongly acted and featuring an emotive soundtrack full of catchy tunes, this tale of broken dreams is one you'll find hard to forget.


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