Stroszek (Werner Herzog, 1977)

Boiling down Stroszek to its most fundamental elements leaves a synopsis that could read: “Two men and a woman leave Germany for Wisconsin”. But then when accounting for Herzog’s narrative sensibilities, the synopsis can be revised as “a mentally challenged ex-con, an elderly man, and a prostitute leave Germany for Wisconsin”. For better or worse (in this case, it’s for the better), Herzog’s bizarre sensibilities serve to enhance what could have been a fairly typical narrative layout. But what took me most off guard was the sense of genuine human pathos involved with such bizarre characters.

From the onset of the film, the title character (played by Bruno S.) is sent home from jail. The warden offers a bit of advice – to keep his fly up and to stop drinking. Stroszek then immediately goes to a bar, wherein he meets with what seems to be an old friend named Eva (Eva Mattes). Eva, a prostitute, is violently assaulted by her pimps on numerous occasions. This violent response prompts Stroszek to house Eva in an apartment that is being held by his elder friend named Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz). As the violence against Eva expands to include Stroszek and Schietz, the three decide to leave Germany for Wisconsin. Their reasoning and logic behind choosing Wisconsin is faulty (like so much of their logic), but they go with it.

What follows is a bewildering situation that leads Eva, Scheitz, and Stroszek to follow their separate paths. Eva, who initially takes work as a waitress, finds her life with Stroszek to be too confining, and instead opts to return to her sexually deviant behavior. Scheitz conducts research on animal magnetism. Stroszek is perhaps the most aware of the situation around him, yet the language barrier prevents him from ever understanding the real gravity of his social position.

Stroszek comments on the differences in hostility between America and Germany – in Germany, the violence that was against him was overt. Eva’s pimps assaulted him on a purely physical level. In America though, violence is something against the spirit, wherein Stroszek is slowly killed with kindness and passive aggressiveness. As the film reaches its increasingly bizarre conclusion (one that includes a dancing chicken), the hopelessness associated with Stroszek’s life almost becomes unbearable. So much of the film is difficult to watch, both in the awkwardness it provokes and the muddled truth it promotes. This is only further compounded by Bruno S.’s convincing performance and the unsightly terrain that Herzog shoots – this is one of the ugliest film’s I’ve seen, but appropriate given its meaning to the whole of the film.