I review the Facets DVD release of Werner Schroeter’s Palermo or Wolfsburg for the Turner Classic Movies website.
Werner Schroeter is one of the least well known of the New German Cinema directors in the West. While fellow filmmakers like Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Wim Wenders, Werner Herzog and Margarethe von Trotta were bringing their sensibilities to the screen by bending the dramatic narrative form to their needs, Schroeter was content to explore the non-commercial realm of experimental shorts and fragmentary features through the 1970s and thus his films did not receive the exposure of his colleagues. It wasn’t until 1978 that Schroeter made his first “traditional” feature film, The Kingdom of Naples, an ambitious portrait in the life of a neighborhood over several generation that earned Schroeter the Best Director prize at the German Film Awards, his first of three such awards to date.
Palermo or Wolfsburg (1980), his second 35mm feature, returns to the poverty of Sicily explored in The Kingdom of Naples and then follows a young, unemployed man as he moves to Germany to find work. It’s a drama of cultural collision and alienation, a simple story with a dense mix of styles and an almost passive figure at the center. Nicola Zarbo, a non-actor with no other recordable screen credits, plays the dutifully religious Sicilian man also named Nicola Zarbo, the eldest son of a widower who dreams of buying the plot of land he works for the local landlord but always behind the rising asking price.