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another bar or drink another beer, he goes straight to a bar and does exactly that—and witnesses a cruel scene involving Eva (Eva Mattes), a prosti- tute, and her pimps; he offers her the shelter of his apartment, which his landlord Herr Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) has kept for him, along with his pet mynah bird. Herr Scheitz has been invited to come to America by his nephew, and—when Eva’s contin- ued presence in his apartment invites encroaching danger and violence—she earns enough money for her and Bruno to accompany him, first to New York and then to Railroad Flats, Wisconsin, where they have been promised jobs at or near the nephew’s truckstop garage. (As sometimes happens when Herzog pursues a documentary look, he inserts a fictional ingredient—hence “Railroad Flats.”) Their Promised Land turns out to be a dusty, rural waste- land and, with only Eva even partly conversant in English, they take too big a bite of the American Dream, signing contracts without being able to read the fine print and, in time, lose everything, forcing Eva back into prostitution and the two men into a ludicrous life of crime.


This is a very human, deeply affecting picture. A Homeric odyssey involving misfits, it is simulta- neously fraught with ugliness and moments of the most moving, homeliest beauty—and much of this is shown to be curiously intertwined, as it comes across in sunsets, plaid-patterned hillbilly sofas, and


the heartwarming cheese of schmaltzy muzak cov- ers of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” and “The Last Thing On My Mind,” the crackling of their vinyl evoking church basement rummage sales as their music paints a picture of a romance as inevitable as heartbreak. It is also a willfully mythic depiction of how ill-equipped our world is to care for the needs of good and simple people, while at the same time providing endless opportunities for the cruel and the craven to take advantage of them. The story could have easily become a Christian parable, with its pure and philosophic hero (a doctor tells him, “You know, Bruno, we would be much more ad- vanced in this world if we knew the answers to all of your questions”) and wayward heroine, but Herzog ensures that both characters show both sides of their broken natures and we can see that where they have been, and where they are going, is as due to bad decisions as to bad luck. Only the char- acter of Herr Scheitz seems completely pure (so pure that he leaves the scene of a robbery to cross the street and go shopping at a food market, with no thought of arrest), and Clemens Scheitz plays him superbly, proving himself a real actor in ways his other token appearances in Herzog’s films do not. If the film is a tragedy, it is also a requiem for the kind of naiveté that can find wonderment in an untuned piano, a mynah bird, and the smallest boat in the world—a naiveté that most of the world has


Fellow immigrant Clemens Scheitz joins Bruno S. in a brief campaign of crime.


33


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