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LIGHTNING OVER WATER

Germany, 1979 (MIFF 1981)

Director: Nicholas Ray, Wim Wenders

When Nicholas Ray and Wim Wenders decided to make a film together, Ray had undergone surgery for cancer. Ray's last completed feature was in 1 962, ending a tumultuous and extraordinarily productive career begun only in 1947. The two directors fixed on the idea of taking their real-life situation as the film's fiction: Wenders and Ray deciding to make a film with and about each other. Then as Ray's strength failed, it became, in his words, "a film about a man who wants to bring himself all together before he dies, a regaining of self-esteem".

The material they shot has been worked over, firstly by Wim Wenders' regular editor and now, in this new version, by Wenders himself. Many have found it a profoundly moving experience, offering much beyond the chance to see one of the great American directors working right up to his death. The Italian director Bernardo Bertolucci wrote the following notes on the film:

"Late at night, perhaps early morning, a taxi stops in front of a door, it is downtown Manhattan. A man, an empty look on his face, wearing a raincoat and carrying a suitcase, gets out He could be a killer from one of those unforgettable films noirs whose title we cannot remember, but the emotion, the light and the 'poetic lack of means' remain in our memory as one out of the diversity in the genre. The man in the raincoat, however, is not a professional killer, paid to eliminate someone he doesn't even know; he is Wim Wenders, who has come to Nick Ray's home to make a film about his last weeks of life (or last hours, but everything is always planned in weeks in the movie business).

Just as films about life inevitably end up evoking the idea of death, this film about death opens wide onto a world of great vitality, which is just the nostalgia of life while being lived, simulation, acting fiction. The film continues its progress towards death, really at work this time, on 35mm, on video, in a sort of organic external-internal continuity. Wenders. and we with him, become familiar with the feeling of death which is that all of us, who watch or make films, aren't immortal and become able to see the Chinese junk materialising out of Nick's regressive imagination, accept Nick coughing courageously in the microphone, Robert Mitchum limping home from the rodeo (breathtaking sequence, magnificent, as in a Mizoguchi picture), or Nick very sweet to his students (who knows what they know of him, very little or nothing, but it doesn't matter). Nick who is as disarming as he is understanding, even with those who have cast him out, with Hollywood, which made his life and his work extremely hard In fact Nick, like all my favorite filmmakers, was even understanding with the bad' in his films.

I wonder why what is seen and carried by this film moves me so deeply. Nick is surrounded by friends, memories, affection. Wim is frighteningly alone, dumbfounded, as if disappearing into the decor. But then wasn't the killer in the thriller equally alone when he discovered, with a poetic licence only possible in 'poor' films, that the victim and the person who gave the order are one and the same person. Here, too, there is a contract between Wim and Nick which states first of all a young director's act of love for his master father-maudit as an exorcising identification and secondly Nick is given the opportunity of being creative up to his last breath. with the pleasure, effort and exhibitionism which creativity requires of a filmmaker. But over and beyond the contract, Wim himself appears stunned: Sam Spade realises he is filming something never done before, what Proust in his last words called T immense frivolitedes mourants'."

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