Palermo or Wolfsburg

The first German film to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, Palermo or Wolfsburg masquerades as an (almost) comprehensible examination of the eternal divide between North and South, following a young Sicilian immigrant from his crumbling hometown to the organized gray efficiencies and everyday racism of Wolfsburg, the German factory town ruled by Volkswagen. His alienation lightened only by memories of Sicily, this luckless, love-struck guest worker soon finds himself on trial for murder, one decided not through law, but-this being Schroeter-opera arias, and what begins as a semidocumentary soon brilliantly ascends into the grandest, maddest, most passionate surrealism. National differences are used to define and condemn-at one point, a replica of a Palermo church is lugged into church as “evidence”-while witnesses badger or sing to one another in alternating Sicilian and German. The result, as J. Hoberman writes, is “as reality-fissuring an experience as The Thin Blue Line;” for Olaf Möller of Cinema Scope, the film represents “Schroeter at his artistically most complex, all-embracing, and all-encompassing.”

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