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Wenders' 'The End' Arrives Late

December 25, 1991|PETER RAINER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wim Wenders is fond of anomie. He's also fond of road movies. The combination can be expressive and otherworldly, as in parts of "Alice in the Cities" and "Kings of the Road." It can be intermittently compelling, as in "Paris, Texas." In "Until the End of the World," at the Nuart, the combo is deadly. Shot in 15 cities across eight countries, it's an interminable dawdle with futuristic pretensions.

Set in 1999, it's about Claire (Solveig Dommartin), a spiritually out-of-sorts woman whose chance encounter with a mysterious stranger, Sam Farber (William Hurt), leads to a pursuit across Paris, Japan, San Francisco and, finally, the Australian outback, where in Oz-like style, the stranger's secret is revealed.

Sort of. This is the kind of movie (rated R for language and sensuality) where the conundrums and enigmas fit into each other like Chinese boxes. The big set-piece which occupies the last of the film's nearly three hours concerns an underground laboratory manned by Sam's father (Max von Sydow). The scientist's passion is to create a gizmo that will enable the blind to see. (His wife, played by Jeanne Moreau, is sightless.) This provides Wenders the opportunity to go hog wild with the techniques of high-definition television, the medium by which the lab volunteers' dreams are recorded. Pretty soon everybody is transmitting their deepest memories and reveries onto HDTV screens; they go half-mad staring into their own imagery.

This is an apt metaphor for a filmmaker, but it only works if the imagery is mesmerizing. In the past, Wenders' imagery has worked on us in this way. Films like "An American Friend" and "Wings of Desire" have a spectral transcendence; the power of the imagery justified the inch-by-inch pacing because there was often a visual epiphany at the end of the road.

With "Until the End of the World," you get the feeling that all of Wenders' energies went into the logistics of the filming. He doesn't find ways to locate the future in the present the way that, say, Godard did in "Alphaville" (the film's chief influence.) Even the cast is lackluster: Dommartin, Wenders' real-life companion, is not a powerful camera subject, and we have plenty of time in this film to figure out why. Hurt is, in a way, the perfect actor for Wenders--his foggy neurasthenia merges with the anomic imagery. The only thing about this movie that seems truly genuine is Hurt's fatigue.

'Until the End of the World' William Hurt: Sam Farber Solveig Dommartin: Claire Sam Neill: Eugene Fitzpatrick

A Warner Brothers presentation of a Jonathan Taplin and Anatole Dauman production. Director Wim Wenders. Producer Jonathan Taplin. Executive producer Anatole Dauman. Screenplay by Peter Carey and Wim Wenders. Cinematographer Robby Muller. Editor Peter Przygodda. Costumes Montserrat Casanova. Music Graeme Nevell. Production design Thierry Flamand. Running time: 2 hours, 48 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for sensuality and language.).

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