German director Wim Wenders miraculously accomplished what most American directors could never do – he made an absorbing film about the landscape of the human soul that is haunting, beautifully shot and sensitively acted.
Harry Dean Stanton rises from the ranks of character actors to leading man with dignity and strength as Travis Henderson, the father trying to reunite his seven-year-old son, Hunter (Hunter Carson), with his whorish long-lost wife, Jane, played with amazing grace and naturalism by the usually nervous, kinky Nastassia Kinski.
We first see Travis as he stalks hurriedly across a barren desert landscape in a double-breasted suit, silk tie and red baseball cap. Stumbling into a tiny settlement store he falls to the floor, unconscious.
A doctor (Bernhard Wicki) calls a number he finds in Travis’ wallet and reaches his brother, Walt (Dean Stockwell), who takes him home to Los Angeles.
We learn that Travis has been missing for four years, that his son has been adopted by Walt and his wife, Anne (Aurore Clement), and that his haunted past has to do with something violent that happened between him and his wife, Jane.
Mute at first, communicating only through terror-stricken eyes, Travis treats his brother like a dangerous stranger. But he gradually responds to the kindness of Walt and Anne and begins to notice his son. This “warming up” process – handled with great delicacy – is the film’s most charming passage.
Travis and Hunter run away like two truant children to Texas in search of Jane and find her in Houston, working as a sex worker. The couple’s troubled past is revealed in two long and sometimes overwritten monologues with the one-way mirror in the sex parlour emphasising the problems in communication between Travis and Jane.
An oddly inconclusive resolution leaves a number of questions unanswered.
Lyrically written by Sam Shepard, Paris, Texas was a pivotal film for Wenders. For some, he subsequently went too far in his embrace of both conventional cinema and traditional values, but Paris, Texas captures the best of both phases in his career.
Harry Dean Stanton