It sounds like heavy slogging. A nearly three-hour road movie from German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire), shot in eight countries and set at the turn of the new century when the world is threatened by a renegade nuclear satellite. Yet Wenders – with the aid of co-writer Peter Carey, cinematographer Robby Müller and a striking soundtrack (U2, R.E.M. and Talking Heads are among the contributors) – has crafted a visionary epic of miraculous buoyancy, compassion and wit.
William Hurt gives a sharply intuitive performance as Sam Farber, a reported industrial spy whom Claire Tourneur (the husky-voiced Solveig Dommartin) picks up while she’s driving to Paris and he’s running from a bounty hunter. There’s a mutual attraction and then he vanishes. With the help of a private detective (Rudiger Vogler in a sly turn), Claire tracks her man across four continents while her novelist lover (Sam Neill) tracks her.
Though Wenders has fun with futuristic detection gadgetry, the game of lovers in pursuit is merely an attenuated lead-in to the film’s hypnotic last act, in which Sam takes Claire to the Australian outback to meet his blind mother (the magnificent Jeanne Moreau) and his scientist father (Max Von Sydow), whom Sam is helping with a camera that can transmit images to the blind. Since the camera can also record dreams, its potential for good and evil is enormous. No fair revealing more, except to say that in probing what Wenders calls the “disease of images,” the film offers a provocative glimpse into the future of human aspiration.