GoaliesAnxietyThe German filmmaker Wim Wenders has become deservedly famous with arthouse faves like PARIS TEXAS and WINGS OF DESIRE, but few seem to remember that he started his career with this stark and disturbing study of a senseless murder and its aftermath. Mixing acute social observation with psychological angst, it emerges as one of the most interesting films of a very interesting filmmaker.

Wim Wenders, along with Werner Herzog and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, was a guiding light of the New German Cinema, and THE GOALIE’S ANXIETY AT THE PENALTY KICK (DIE ANGST DES TORMANNS BEIM ELFMETER), Wenders’s 1972 debut, is one of the most important films of that movement. It has parallels in Fassbinder’s WHY DOES HERR R. RUN AMOK? (1971) and Michael Haneke’s later THE SEVENTH CONTINENT (1989), two German films that pitilessly examine the dehumanizing effects of modern society. Wenders’s film is just as savage in its critique of modern (well, circa 1972) Germany, but unlike those other films, both of which end with their protagonists committing acts of shocking violence, this one begins with its main character nonchalantly strangling a woman to death.

Having just been suspended for missing a penalty kick, it could be that the Josef is simply upset, but the real reasons for the murder are never explained. For the remainder of the film, Wenders forces us to experience the most mundane details of Josef’s life, as he escapes to a small provincial town where he takes long bus rides and carries on meaningless conversations with the local residents. He also passively records the progress of the police investigation of the murder, which always seems to be on the verge of nabbing him-not that this disturbs Joseph any, as his sense of reality steadily ebbs.

By deliberately withholding any explanation for Joseph’s actions, Wenders seems to be suggesting that the reasons are too ambiguous to be brought to light-or that perhaps there simply aren’t any.

Whether one finds this film fascinating or simply maddening (a good case can be made for either position), it remains an uncommonly assured debut. As with most of Wenders’s early films (ALICE IN THE CITIES, KINGS OF THE ROAD), it’s a “road” movie, meaning that the main character is in transit for the majority of the action, much of which was improvised on actual locations.

The filmmaking is completely uncluttered and naturalistic, lending an even more disquieting air to the already unsettling subject matter. As for the murder itself, it’s presented in an unshowy, almost nonchalant manner, the same way in which we see Joseph boarding a bus or chatting with his neighbors. He may be a homicidal sociopath, but Joseph seems to fit in quite well with the world around him—which seems to be the whole point.

Vital Statistics

Filmverlag Der Autoren

Director: Wim Wenders
Screenwriters: Wim Wenders and Peter Haneke (Based on a novella by Peter Haneke)
Cinematography: Robbie Muller
Editor: Peter Przygodda
Cast: Arthur Brauss, Erika Pluhar, Kai Fischer