Wege in die Nacht (Paths in the Night) (1999)
Director: Andreas Kleinert.
Starring: Hilmar Thate (Walter), Cornelia Schmaus (Sylvia), Henriette Heinze (Gina), Dirk Borchardt (Rene), Ingeborg Westphal (Kellnerin), Daniela Hoffmann (Sylvias Kollegin).
he was a once-powerful man in East Germany, but after the fall of the Berlin Wall, he is redundant and adrift (English subtitles)
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
There are lots of abandoned factories in what was once East Germany. Walter sits at the kitchen table looking at the want adds. He gets up from the table to feed his dog Ricky. At night he sits in the car waiting for his wife Sylvia to get off work as a waitress. He watches her through the big glass windows. He comes into the restaurant and his wife comes over to him and gives him a kiss. She asks how the job search is going and he doesn't say anything. She tells him: "You can't get used to me working here." Sylvia gets back to work, while Walter sits at one of the tables. He sits there for a short time and then gets up and walks outside. Sylvia gives a big sigh over the situation.
Outside Walter sees two men trying to gain access to a car. He quietly walks over to the car. Walter thinks these guys are car thieves. The two men see him and tell him to get lost because this is none of his business. Walter asks them: "Know who I am?" Then he asks them to show him their I.D.s. The two men look at Walter as if he is crazy. Sylvia comes over and pulls Walter away.
Walter starts driving, but is not going home. He just says he wants to go for a drive. He asks Sylvia if anyone is following them? She asks: "Walter, why should anyone follow us?" No answer. Walter drives over to an abandoned factory and his wife tells him the place looks very "eerie". Walter gets out and open Sylvia's door. He starts looking around at the factory. She wants to know why are they here? Walter says that he comes here quite a bit. "We're in the domain of the dead."
While Sylvia goes to relieve her bladder, Walter takes a pistol and a silencer from his glove compartment. He puts the silencer on the barrel. When she returns, he tells her there's something he has to do. He starts walking away from the car. He fires his pistol at a bunch of rubble three times. He returns to the car. Walter comments that in the old days she would be the one to pick him up from work. Sylvia tells him that she just wants to go home.
In their summer cottage, Walter works outside on his backyard. He starts picking some of the ripe apples.
Before the restaurant opens up, Sylvia puts on some music and dances around a bit. She looks out the window at a young man fixing his bicycle. He sees her and she smiles at him.
Sylvia returns home and sees a note from Walter saying that he had to go out and supper is in the oven. Sylvia looks depressed as she sits down at the table.
A young woman and a young man walk on either side of Walter. They go with him down into the subway and get on a car. The woman sees two drunks harassing a black man. The big fellow with Walter knocks the main harasser down and out and the young woman gets the other man. Walter approves.
The trio get off at a station and Walter tells them that that's enough for today. The man and woman are half-siblings.
Walter watches a group of people waiting for a job center to open for the day. The place opens and the people file into the building. Walter then goes inside. He sees the young man from the previous evening walking his way, so he turns his back to him so he won't be noticed.
Before the restaurant opens, Sylvia mops the floor. Later we see her ride a bike to the church.
At night Walter and his employees are riding the subway again. A homeless man gets on the subway and tries to sell a newspaper to the subway riders. A rider shouts for the bastard to get lost. The newspaper fellow walks off. Walter motions to the young woman to take care of it, but her half-brother motions that he will deal with the man. The big fellow walks over and socks the man hard and he falls from his seat onto the floor. Then the young man really kicks him hard. Walter seems to be running his own vigilante service for the subways.
Walter and his employees get off the subway so Walter can have a cigarette. He borrows the woman's cell phone and calls his wife at home. She answers, but he doesn't say anything. She tells Walter to say something, but Walter just hangs up on her. Walter tells the pair that they will go to Mitte and change there. On the subway again, some young people are making a lot of noise. They are bothering a young woman and fellow. Walter watches for awhile and then unleashes the woman. She goes over and hits one fellow over the head with an unopened soda can. A fellow grabs her from behind and another starts coming at her. She kicks the guy coming at her in the groin and he yells out in pain. Then she works to get the other guy off her back. She does so, but she is really struggling with the fellow on the floor. Her brother comes over and knocks the guy out.
One of the guys pulls out a switchblade on the brother. At first, he is able to get the best of the brother, but soon the tables turn and the brother beats the living hell out of the fellow. Then he starts kicking the guy over and over, until his sister pulls him back. Walter goes over to the three defeated lads and tells them they got what they deserved. He then tells one of the guys to open the door of the subway car and jump out while the subway is still going at a fast speed. He and his backup intimidate the fellow so that he opens the door and then starts looking for a way to jump. He loses his balance and is gone.
At the next stop everybody, except for a man in a business suit, runs off the subway car. When they are alone the well-dressed man asks Walter if that was really necessary? He says Walter shoved a guy off a moving train. Walter asks him why didn't he intervene and the fellow answers that he was outnumbered. Walter starts criticizing the fellow, saying things that really apply more to Walter than the businessman. The bantering goes on for awhile, until the guy gets up saying he should have left earlier.
Walter waits outside his house until his wife turns off the lights. But Sylvia is not sleeping. She hears a car door open and close and then open and close. She looks out the window and sees Walter in his car. He is listening to a tape that the young girl owns. She gave it to him for safe-keeping when she went to start the recent fight. A little later he goes into a sports bar. He looks around the place and at the patrons. Walter sits down at a table. From there he orders a lager. The waitress has a drink and talks to her friend, while forgetting the lager.
Walter listens to the tape as he drinks his lager. The place is almost completely empty now. He is the last customer. The waitress asks him if he will pay the bill now? Walter says he wants another beer. She wants to close up and go home. He asks her to listen to the tape. She doesn't want to. He asks her if she recognizes him and is surprised when she says no. He finally pays his bill and leaves the joint.
Walter is a bit drunk and he slowly walks down the street to his place. He tries to be quiet as he closes the door, but he soon falls on his face. Sylvia comes over to him and asks him what's wrong? She helps him over to the couch. He says: "He jumped. He really jumped." Sylvia asks who jumped? He tells her: "Sylvia, I can't go on. I just can't carry on." But he says he can't tell her. He then says that for his two employees, he is somebody important. It's like old times with them. She asks: "Where do you go every night?" She pleads with him to stop his night excursions.
While Sylvia fixes him some coffee, he takes the tape from the tape player and puts it into his own sound system. Sylvia hears music different from what they usually listen to. The phone rings and Sylvia answers it. When she is through she tells her husband that a girl is on the phone and she is looking for her tape player. Sylvia wonders what this woman means to Walter.
The next day Walter is back working on his yard. Later he reads through the newspaper and cuts out some of the articles. He reaches into his pocket and finds the new lighter that his wife told him about last night. She said it was from a customer who gave it to her in front of everyone. She in turn gave it to Walter. But does Walter remember any of this?
Walter rides the subway with the young man. He asks the fellow if he thinks Gina will hop onto the subway at one of the stops? Gina, however, is just outside the subway door. She lets out a whoop or two as she hangs onto the car from the outside. When the train stops, she jumps into the car. Walter slaps her on the right cheek. That shocks Gina, but after a bit of hesitation she goes and sits next to Walter. He asks her if she missed her music? She says of course. She then says it was a strange thing, but she telephoned Walter and got a wrong number. Walter just gives her back her tape and asks her to make a copy of it for him. She just gives him the tape to keep. She also says that the drummer is a friend of hers. She seems pleased that Walter liked her music.
A man who knows Walter comes over to him and asks: "Comrade Bergkamp?" Walter pretends he doesn't know the fellow, gets up and walks away from him. The guy follows him asking if the Comrade Director remembers him?
When the trio gets off the subway, Gina asks Walter who was that man? He says he will tell her later. He drives them to the old factory. Gina and Rene get out of the car, along with Walter. Gina tells Rene that the place looks like a wasteland. She tells Walter that it was obvious that the man on the subway knew Walter or Comrade Bergkamp. Walter asks: "You hold it against me?" She shouts at him: "So you were a Party pig!" She and Rene start walking away from him. Walter tells them to come back here now, but they keep walking. He warns them, but Gina, seeing the pistol in Walter's hand, says he won't shoot. But Walter actually does shoot her -- in the left leg.
Walter comes over and offers her a cigarette. She takes it but throws it away, saying that the pain is just too much for her. Rene bandages her wound and then picks her up. Where are they going? Home. Walter asks: "Why get me in such a mess?" Gina says her mother will fix her up. She and Rene both get into the car. Walter seems totally confused saying he doesn't understand, after all: "I got you out of the gutter." He then says that the times will get better and society is going to need people like them, so they must be ready for new challenges. Gina seems to feel sorry for the confused old man and smiles at him.
Sylvia goes to a party without Walter. There are quite a few people in the large apartment. She says hello to some of the guests. The telephone rings and everyone gets quiet. Walter shows up at the party. He looks around at the guests. Sylvia comes over to him. She says: "At last! I was worried to death." Sylvia tells him that his shirt is bloody. The man who recognized Walter on the subway comes over and welcomes Walter, but Walter says nothing to him.
Another guest recognizes Walter and welcomes him and Sylvia. It's been a long time since they last saw each other. He tells Walter that it was in the papers that the Japanese bought Walter's old company. Walter just walks away from him. He overhears another conversation and when he is noticed and welcomed he just tells them: "All that talk is unbearable." Again he just walks away saying the word: "Opportunists!" He decides to leave the party and Sylvia welcomes that idea.
On a blanket, Walter lays out on the lawn of his old company. He gets a call from Gina's mother, who tells him that Gina says that everything is alright, but the truth is that she is not doing very well. Mom also says that Gina just raves about Walter.
Walter watches as a building is imploded. At home in his cabin he listens to Gina's music.
Sylvia comes to the cabin with a colleague of hers. She is surprised to see Walter at the cabin. Walter starts giving her the third degree about the woman colleague and why her restaurant is opening late today. He starts to become unglued and shouts at his wife. He roughly grabs her and tells her to call her boss about the delayed opening time so he can hear it from the boss's mouth. Sylvia refuses and he starts slapping at her. She starts crying and he starts crying. He then sits down on the sofa.
The colleague now decides she's tired of waiting and goes to check on Sylvia. Walter tells Sylvia that he is going to buy her a big present. The colleague bangs on the glass of the cabin window. Sylvia comes out and they both sit down on a rocking swing seat. The co-worker knows that something is wrong and she asks Sylvia about it. Sylvia says nothing's wrong. Walter comes out and greets the guest very warmly. Sylvia immediately says they have to go. They will walk. He asks the woman if she knows Gina? The guest doesn't know what he's talking about.
Rene waits at the subway station. Walter shows up and tells him that there will be no action tonight. Rene asks is this because of what happened to Gina? Walter says it's because of a woman. He tells Rene that he would like to take him for a beer and talk. They go into the sports bar and order two lagers. Walter gives the new cigarette lighter to the waitress that he met on his last visit. She is pleased with her gift.
Sylvia looks out the window. She sees her husband and Rene talking on the street corner. He comes up to the apartment and is much more cheerful than usual. He tells Sylvia that he is going to give her a gift tomorrow. He and his friend will pick out a pearl necklace for her. Sylvia doesn't say anything. He pets her hair and then hugs her. Then he goes to turn Gina's music on. Sylvia's eyes fill with tears, but it's not exactly clear what her emotions are at this time: resentment, jealousy, frustration?
The next day Walter sits alone at a table in the sports bar. Rene finally arrives. They show each other their pistols. One gets the feeling that the two might be going to rob a store or a bank, because Rene has a ski cap for Walter to wear over his head. Walter goes to the bathroom and looks at himself in the mirror. He puts the ski mask over his head. He looks like he is going to rob someone or some business.
Sylvia is on the phone talking to the police saying that her husband has been acting very strangely. She thinks he is going to steal the pearl necklace for her from the new arcade. She asks the police not to hurt her husband because he needs a lot of professional help.
Five minutes before the store closes the two men come into the new arcade. They rob the jewelry store and then run out. Walter, however, returns to the jewelry store and takes off his mask. Now he walks out of the new arcade. He puts the pearl necklace on Sylvia's bed. Walter drives to the abandoned factory. Some kids are playing football (soccer). A little girl comes up to him sitting in his car. He closes his window. The girl returns to her friends. She hears a shot, but doesn't react to it.
Sad movie, but a good one. The hero of our story was once a really big man in the East German Communist party. But with the fall of communism and the loss of his factory, there is no longer anything particularly "special" about Walter. He is not employed and seems lost in this new world of his unimportance. About the only thing he likes to do is go to visit his old factory or fix-up the yard at his cabin. His wife Sylvia is suffering as much or more pain from Walter's state of mind than Walter is. He definitely seems depressed and needs professional help. Poor Sylvia worries so much for her husband. He returns to being somewhat of a "somebody" when he hires a half-brother and sister team to go on his subway vigilante tours. The trio punishes the bad guys they find on the subway doing something bad. The punishment is usually to be knocked out cold by the very large half-brother or the sister. This gives Walter some feeling of being in charge again. But that does not cure Walter's depression and one wonders what else is this fellow going to do that will get him into so much trouble that he will be killed or sent to prison? Walter is definitely a man on the edge.
I liked all the performances of the four main characters: Walter, Sylvia, Gina and Rene. The film kept my interest throughout and this write-up seemed to be finished in record time for me.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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