Stroszek

stroszek

Stroszek is a 1977 film by German director Werner Herzog. It was written in four days specifically for German actor and musician Bruno Schleinstein (known as Bruno S.) and was shot in Berlin, two towns in Wisconsin, and in North Carolina. Most of the lead roles are played by non-actors. Schleinstein was often beaten as a child, and spent much of his youth in mental institutions. He was a largely self-taught musician, who over the years developed considerable skill on the piano, accordion, glockenspiel and handbells.

He was spotted by director Werner Herzog in the documentary ‘Bruno der Schwarze – Es blies ein Jäger wohl in sein Horn’ (1970). Herzog promptly cast Schleinstein (under the name Bruno S.) as his lead actor in ‘The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser’ (1974), though he had no acting experience, and the historical figure he portrayed was only in his teens. ‘Stroszek’ has a number of biographical details from Schleinstein’s life, including the use of his own flat as the home of Bruno Stroszek. He also played his own instruments.

In the film, Bruno Stroszek is a Berlin street performer. Released from prison and warned to stop drinking, he immediately goes to a familiar bar where he comforts Eva, a prostitute down on her luck, and lets her stay with him at the apartment his landlord kept for him. They are then harried and beaten by Eva’s former pimps, who insult Bruno, pull his accordion apart and humiliate him by making him kneel on his grand piano with bells balanced on his back. Faced with the prospect of further harassment, Bruno and Eva decide to leave Germany and accompany Bruno’s eccentric elderly neighbor Scheitz, who was planning to move to Wisconsin to live with his American nephew Clayton.

After sightseeing in New York City they buy a used car and arrive in a winter-bound, barren prairie near the fictional town of ‘Railroad Flats.’ There Bruno works as a mechanic with Clayton and his Native American helper and Eva waits tables at a truck stop. The pair buy a trailer which is sited on Clayton’s land, but as bills mount, the bank threatens to repossess it. Eva falls back into prostitution to supplement her wages, but it is not enough to meet the payments. She tires of Bruno’s drunken ramblings and deserts him by leaving with a couple of truck drivers bound for Vancouver.

A man from the bank visits Bruno, who is now drinking steadily, and has him sign off on the repossession. The home is auctioned, and he and Scheitz (who has been spending his time investigating ‘animal magnetism’) is convinced that the world is conspiring against him, set off to confront the ‘conspiracy.’ Finding the bank closed, they hold up a barber shop beneath it, make off with 32 dollars and then go shopping in a small store across the street. The police arrive and arrest Scheitz for armed robbery without noticing Bruno. Holding a large frozen turkey from the store and the shotgun, Bruno returns to the garage where he works, loads the tow truck with beer, and drives along a highway into the mountains.

Upon entering a small town, the truck breaks down and Bruno pulls over to a restaurant where he tells his story to a German-speaking businessman. He then starts the truck, leaves it circling in the parking lot with a fire taking hold in the engine compartment and goes into a tourist trap across the street, where he starts a ski-lift and rides it with his frozen turkey. After Bruno disappears from view a single shot rings out. The police arrive at the scene to find the truck is now fully ablaze. The film ends with a sequence showing a chicken dancing, a chicken playing a piano, and a rabbit riding a toy fire truck in coin operated attractions that Bruno activated on his way to the ski-lift.

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