Criterion Prediction #224: The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick
Director: Wim Wenders
Cast: Arthur Brauss, Kai Fischer, Erika Pluhar, Bert Fortell
Synopsis: When disaffected goalkeeper Josef Bloch is dismissed from a game for committing a penalty, he finds himself wandering about a provincial town. After winning the companionship of a cashier at a movie house, Bloch arbitrarily kills her. Afterward, he boards a train for his hometown and revisits an old flame.
Critique: An odd entry in the varied world of Wenders, The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick plays in territories familiar in the director’s body of work and yet feels more distant and cold than his more cuddly explorations of existential longing and cultural dissociation. While Wings of Desire is one of Wenders’ most rapturous and rewarding, his other two collaborations with Peter Handke–Wrong Move and The Goalie’s Anxiety–have a coarse, almost vulgar relationship with art and their overall aesthetic demeanor is more confrontational than anything else to come from the soft-spoken poet of the New German Cinema. At times these movies are emblematic of the characteristic duality that typifies Wenders’ best work. While Wrong Move has some misguided contention, The Goalie’s Anxiety wriggles underneath a veneer that is enlivened and constrained by a Brechtian/Camus-inspired narrative of disassociation. Brauss’ performance as Bloch has that guarded stranger quality; perhaps his alien aura stems from the fact that he’s in a film directed by someone who often worked with his stock company? Wenders’ freewheeling sense of discovery is mostly absent in favor of a more rigid commitment to adaptation.
While The Goalies Anxiety has thought-provoking philosophical weight, there’s a degree of distancing as an effect of the heady thematic structure. It’s a shade darker than Wenders’ other work, thematically closer to the likes of Wrong Move than Alice in the Cities. But Wenders’ realization of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley’s Game with The American Friend in 1977 indicates a proclivity for pessimistic, postmodernist deconstruction of the thriller genre, which is brilliant. It’s not one of the best from the director’s early era but there’s still a visible degree of aesthetic chops with a rewarding feeling of atmosphere.
Why It Belongs in the Collection: One of the bonus features on the Criterion release of Wenders’ Road Trilogy is a restoration demonstration; in it, there’s a section where they show the great lengths they went through to restore The Goalie’s Anxiety. With all of the diegetic classic rock songs on the soundtrack, Wenders hired musicians to cover the likes of Elvis Presley to get the film out of distribution limbo. Why is this so important? Well, if the movie wasn’t coming to The Criterion Collection, why would they showcase it?