Land of Plenty

Wim Wenders is an odd one. He’s capable of some of the most beautiful, thoughtful, pensive films in cinema history (Wings of Desire, Until the End of the World) and he’s capable of some of the most ponderous, plodding flicks you’ll forget five minutes after they’re over. Land of Plenty is neither- a quiet little film exploring post 9-11 America, it gets back to basics: a simple character sketch about a Vietnam Vet named Paul who is stuck in a delusional paranoid fantasy of 24-7 anti-terrorist surveillance.

By contrast, his estranged niece, Lana, is a sweet child of missionaries returning to L.A. to carry out her mother’s last wishes. The two make an unlikely pair, but apparently blood is thicker than water. That’s pretty much the film; I mean, lots things happen- little events that trigger the emotional drama- but on paper, it’s nothing out of the ordinary. Other than the fun of watching the great Richard Edson do his thing and seeing Wendell “Bunk” Pierce pop up in something other than the Wire, there are not a lot of selling points to the film at first glance.

And yet, the movie is compelling. Despite the potentially cheesy “everyone learned a little bit more about themselves” sort of vibe that keeps threatening to break out, Wenders keeps the dialogue fresh and the acting (by John Diehl and Michelle Williams) natural and honest. It’s a classic indie film, the kind Wenders himself pioneered in early works like Paris, Texas, a road movie that bears more than a passing resemblance to this one.

Land of Plenty maintains that detached European vibe, giving you the sense that Wenders is still simultaneously confused and bemused by America and all the contradictions it possess. You could call this his attempt at giving Americans props for what they went through, almost as if he wants us to know he’s still rooting for the U.S. of A, despite its many faults. Perhaps this sentiment felt fresh and current upon the film’s release, a mere three years after 9-11. Today, the dated flip phones and terrorism rhetoric seem quaint, but its heart beats just as vibrantly.

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