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An exquisitely gentle film, on its surface Wim Wenders’s ‘Lisbon Story’ is the simple, meandering tale of Philip Winter, a sound recordist who travels to Lisbon to work on his friend Friedrich’s film. When Philip arrives, however, the film’s director is nowhere to be found. For three weeks, Philip wanders about, recording the sounds of the city; meeting a group of youngsters who are fascinated by his vocation, as well as the world-famous Portuguese musical group Madredeus, who are recording songs for Friedrich’s film.
But the film is a complex, powerful paean to filmmaking and a consideration of the perennial question: What is cinema? The film’s story revolves around a vacuum - the absent director and so the missing image – while the other elements swirl around it, waiting to offer support. These elements include sound (Philip’s recordings) and music (the work of Madredeus), but also various musings on the nature of cinema, including a wonderful monologue delivered by esteemed Portuguese director Manoel de Oliveira in which he claims cinema as a tool of memory – even if memory is itself an illusion.
As well, Wenders inflects his films with reminders of other cinematic greats, from tributes to the physical humour of Charlie Chaplin and Jacques Tati to the suggestive image/sound combinations of Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann; from the existential doubts of Michelangelo Antonioni’s L’ Avventura’ to the professional doubts of Federico Fellini’s ‘8 1/2’. In the end, ‘Lisbon Story’ is a film that offers great satisfaction by putting the ‘moving’ back in ‘moving image’.