Layers : clothing in Paris, Texas by Wim Wenders – Text by Emmanuel Pierre

 

Paris, Texas is perhaps Wim Wenders’ most revered feature. Unfolding between Texas and California, the family drama he so artfully shapes avoids the stereotypes of its kind with a delicate genuineness that leaves emotions untouched. Paris,Texas tells of a quest for lost love in its own, meandering way. Akin to the mind of its main character, the narrative slowly builds up in a sheerly American atmosphere, bathed in sunset hues and neon lights.

 

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A cap. A bright red cap is the first thing we spot, lost in the vast aridity of the Texan desert. Coupled with Travis’ ragged brown suit and threadbare shoes, its childlike aspect sharply contrasts with the character’s disheveled appearance. Somehow, before he’s even uttered a single word, it already seems to suggest the state of his shattered mind. He will silently, obstinately cling to this cap, and will only start recovering his speech and memory after removing his strange attire. 

 

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Closer to the end, a second character – and not the least – is introduced wearing the same colour. Jane, a soft glow of gold and red, stands in the smoky darkness of a bar, unaware of the presence of her former lover. Her short and fuzzy fuchsia mohair dress conceals the curves of her thin silhouette, but still reveals her bare back – a hint to the twofold nature of this elusive character, perhaps. Later in the booth, she will exude a singular mixture of seduction and innocence, at once young mother and hooker. But not quite either. 

 

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After all, unreachable in her glass cage, she is little more than an image, shrouded in her audience's fantasies. The image of her, clad in the vibrant mohair dress, is so striking that it would border on the archetype if it wasn’t undermined by her ambivalent behaviour. Somehow, this very dress becomes a symbol of her own performance.

 

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Travis himself is no stranger to performance when he strives to appear as a “proper” dad, and clothing is also a perfect vehicle for it. In the same way, his performance is not entirely convincing, tinged as it is with more than a hint of self-derision. Does he already know, with his brother’s stetson hat, grey suit and cowboy boots, that he’s not fit for the role ?

 

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As the movie draws to a close, both characters will leave their costumes behind. For their second encounter in the flesh, Jane sports a simple black dress, her plume of golden hair straightened, frail and melancholic behind the glass pane – unambiguous. She is now just a young woman. She is – unwittingly – ready to be finally reunited with her son. Travis, for his part, will wander off in the night, giving up the impression of the dad he will never be.

 

Winner of the International Critic's Prize and Palme d'Or in 1984, Paris, Texas was screened again thirty years later at the Cannes Festival last May.

 

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