German film director Wim Wenders has never been known to make easy to digest movies. His latest work "Land of Plenty," which just opened in Germany, takes a critical look at post-9/11 America.
Michelle Williams plays Lana in "Land of Plenty"
Wenders, the director of "Wings of Desire" and "Million Dollar Hotel", joins a growing number of filmmakers to delve into how the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, have affected American society. A long-time resident of Los Angeles, Wenders uses the city as the backdrop for a tale of paranoia and dislocation that casts an eye on the forgotten parts of America.
Besides looking at the climate of fear that has descended upon the United States in the past few years, "Land of Plenty" explores the paradox of how the world's richest and most powerful nation can at the same time have masses of homeless people on the streets or millions without adequate health insurance. It also attacks the country's often insular nature and the intolerance of fundamentalist Christians.
Film scene from Wenders' "Land of Plenty"
"I had the hope that it would work like a shock. This land of plenty is a vacuum inside, a land of drought and poverty: mental, spiritual, social, political poverty," Wenders told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper in a recent interview.
The movie centers on the patriotic but paranoid Vietnam veteran Paul (John Diehl) who travels through the city looking for Muslim terrorists. Paul is joined by his niece Lana (Michelle Williams), a young and idealistic Christian who after spending time helping Palestinians in the Middle East tries to improve the lot of Los Angeles' homeless.
Assault on Bush
Filmed in only 16 days with digital cameras and a budget of €800,000 ($1 million), the movie is Wenders' assault on the America of George W. Bush.
"The idea for 'Land of Plenty' originated with the fundamentalist Christianity of the Bush era. From the anger that Christianity has been so perverted and used in so a perfidious manner for political interests," Wenders said. "As a Christian, I know no other option except to be against war and to have solidarity with the poor."
Despite their similar dislike for President Bush, the German contends he is not following the path cut by left-wing documentary maker Michael Moore, who had major success with his film "Fahrenheit 9/11". "I don't go for polemics like Michael Moore. But maybe that would work better in America," Wenders told the DPA news agency.
Although considered one of the better known German directors in America, Wenders is unsure how the film will be received by American audiences. He said the American members of the jury at this year's Venice film festival took the attitude that a European outsider had little business criticizing the United States in the way "Land of Plenty" does.
Thinking of leaving
"The Americans like to listen to themselves. Arguments from outside often fall on deaf ears," Wenders said, adding he considered leaving the United States last year as the climate in the country deteriorated into one of fear and xenophobia in the run up to the war in Iraq. Instead, he decided to make a film that would tackle a subject many Americans would not or could not make.
But even some American viewers who respect Wenders as a director apparently have difficulty with how the movie's leading characters come across.
On one Internet film forum, an American who recently saw "Land of Plenty" in Paris took Wenders to task for his "weakness for clichés about America rather than finding the real thing. Europeans might find the American 'types' portrayed in this film a validation of how they view the US, but most thoughtful Americans will probably be irritated by the simple reductions of the characters."