Well, that was a sad one.
Wener Herzog’s “Stroszek” belongs to that particular sub-genre that deals with odd existences drawing the short straw in life, combined with the failed American dream topic. That combo does not exactly make for a joyful time in front of the screen, but something about the bizarre quality of this movie saves if from being a complete misery feast.
Bruno Stroszek (Bruno Schleinstein) is being released from prison in Germany (Berlin?). He is a street musician, but when he gets drunk, he is apparently prone to do stupid things. Nevertheless, the first place he seeks out upon release is his local watering hole. He is quite familiar, if not liked by the clientele there, including the prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes) and her pimps. They treat her badly, so Bruno offers that she can stay with him. The elderly and eccentric Mr. Scheitz (Clemens Scheitz) has been looking after Bruno’s apartment and his musical instruments so there is a place waiting for him. Crossing the pimps was probably a mistake as Bruno and Eva are now being terrorized by them to the extent that when Mr. Scheitz leaves for America, Eva and Bruno join him.
Scheitz has a nephew in Wisconsin, and that is as prepared as they are. Otherwise, they are completely ill-equipped for life in the middle of nowhere Wisconsin. Only Eva speaks English and only she has a minimum of skill level to get by. Bruno went on the idea that in America everybody gets rich by default and Scheitz, heaven knows what Scheitz was thinking. Everything tanks for them. On the winter-locked prairie, life is immensely bleak. Eva runs away with two truck drivers and Bruno and Scheitz revert to armed robbery.
Objectively this is a movie about people in the gutter who are looking for an escape, only to find themselves even deeper in a, now unfamiliar, gutter. Bruno is a quirky character, but not unsympathetic. For his special kind the niche is rather narrow and precarious, and he has no defense against predators like the pimps. For Eva, the situation is much the same. On the fringe, they cannot rely on the protection we take for granted. How tempting is it not to then simply leave and start over in another place, a place where everybody lives a wonderful life (think of a goatherder in Somalia or Afghanistan dreaming of Sweden)?
If Bruno’s niche was narrow in Germany, it is non-existent in America. He is not even attempting to be a street musician in Wisconsin. Not speaking the language, knowing the culture or even having any relevant skills, reality is crushing when it hits.
It is really sad and heartbreaking and I am not certain if that feeling is enhanced or relieved by the wry humor mixed in. It is a bitter, black sort of humor that sends the movie into left field but also enhance the alienation. An example of this is the dark moment when their mobile home has been repossessed by the bank, Eva has left and Bruno and Scheitz, who think all this is a plot against them by unknown enemies, decide to rob a bank. The bank is closed so instead they rob the hairdresser next door for 32$. Instead of escaping though, they throw the gun into the car and walk into the grocery next door to do some calm supermarket shopping with their new-found wealth. Presently, the police arrives and arrests Scheitz for armed robbery.
This scene is so… unbelievable that I could not help laughing out loud. From a scene that is the deepest darkness. Amazing.
The end-scene with the animals doing humiliating tricks for coins while trapped in a cage is summing up the movie pretty well. There is no escape for Bruno.
Recommended? Not certain. You really have to be in the mood for this.