The Scarlet Letter (Wim Wenders / West Germany-Spain, 1973):
(Der Scharlachrote Buchstabe)

A German recreating 17th-century America in Spain can’t help but court dislocation, so it goes with Wim Wenders’ Hawthorne adaptation. The outsider’s perspective is declared at once, the first face you see is Chillingworth’s (Hans Christian Blech) as he returns to Salem following his sojourn with the natives and the narrative’s halfway over. Hester Prynne (Senta Berger) already has the crimson "A" on her frock, she’s summoned to town for her annual humiliation and, in an unmistakable Wenders gag, tiny Pearl (Yella Rottländer) giggles as the black-clad pilgrim leading the arrest slips and falls in the mud. The New World is a wind-blasted coast with planks laid precariously over endless sandy expanses, blocky shrouded figures orate from the pulpit: "This liberty corrupts us all." Prynne is a slumming-sexpot pariah, Chillingworth comes back from the woods with fewer puritanical knots but a clinical eye for revenge, a flabby-chinned Dimmersdale (Lou Castel) keeps fainting on the edges of the frame. Reaching out to the heroine is Mistress Hibbins (Yelena Samarina), the governor’s daughter and home-incarcerated "witch" who, decked out in daddy’s judicial peruke, takes a torch to the gown she's wearing -- with a dash more delirium, it could be Johnny Guitar. A lumpy mélange of naturalism and melodrama, German and Spanish and Russian players bumping into one another, a score like a pile of bricks. Peculiarly compelling bits of misdirection, Anthony Mann for Chillingworth’s entrance (cf. Victor Mature in The Last Frontier) and Straub-Huillet for the period décor. "My father is dead, I am looking forward to tomorrow..." The filmmaker closes his unhappy first international venture back at the beach, with Hester and Pearl aided, significantly, by Wenders’ ‘70s gentle traveler, Rüdiger Vogler, who’s ready to escort Rottländer to modern times and Alice in the Cities. Cinematography by Robby Müller. With William Layton, Ángel Álvarez, and Alfredo Mayo.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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