Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick - Die Angst Des Tormanns Beim Elfmeter (1972)

After being sent off for angrily contesting a goal as offside, goalkeeper Josef Bloch (Arthur Brauss) wanders aimlessly through a strange town, visiting the local cinema and picking up Gloria (Erika Pluhar), an attractive blonde cinema cashier. Following their night of passion, Bloch arbitrarily strangles her to death, before boarding a coach to visit old flame Hertha (Kai Fischer) in a quiet village on the East/West border. 

The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick is a somewhat overlooked 1972 film from Wim Wenders that has been taken off the shelf, dusted off, restored and given a cinema release. Based on a novel by Peter Handke, it's an existential delight that owes much to Albert Camus' classic 1942 novel L’Étranger and to Camus' own previous occupation as a goalkeeper with Racing Universitaire d'Alger. Our protagonist has the same emotional detachment as Meursault, the man who felt nothing at his mother's death and who goes on to kill a man in the novel by Camus. Just like him, we're given no explanation for Bloch's homicidal behaviour or why he neither feels nothing at the sight of the body of a missing schoolboy, nor reports his findings to the police. 

Equally, the indifference he shows to his future goes without explanation too. The closest we get to it is in the film's final moments, when the meaning of the title becomes clear. In this scene, Bloch is watching a football match and strikes up a conversation with another spectator, a travelling salesman who, like him, is just passing through the town. Bloch tries to explain what he feels about football from the goalie's perspective, specifically the dilemma he is presented with regarding which way to go each time he faces a penalty. This dilemma is one that the village's policeman shares with Bloch in a late night conversation regarding having to second guess which way an offender is going to run. For Wenders, the moment between the goalie and the opposing player is a psychological confrontation and it serves as a parallel to Bloch's current situation: he hasn't gone on the run, isn't sure or indeed seemingly all that concerned about the possibility that the police may be on his trail, he is just existing from day to day in plain sight, feeling nothing once again. It's easy to see why Wenders would go on to so successfully adapt Ripley's Game as The American Friend in 1977, as Bloch is very much cut from the same cloth as Patricia Highsmith's literary anti-hero.

It's not all heavy existential ennui though; there's a fine streak of bone-dry humour playing out across the film that allows Brauss' otherwise murderous impassive demeanour the opportunity to afford this comic relief with a winning deadpan reaction. However, I could have done without the excessive use of Jürgen Knieper's monotonous score as it really rather began to grate, though I think that perhaps added to the stifling nature of the slow, introspective narrative.

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