Twenty-eight pop songs go looking for a drama to accompany them in “Palermo Shooting,” which suffers from being both pretentious and inconsequential. Wim Wenders’ first European-set narrative feature in 14 years stars German pop singer Campino as a trendy photographer who enters into a periodic conversation with Death (Dennis Hopper in a hood) as he journeys from Dusseldorf to the titular Sicilian city. Though nicely shot and bedecked with almost continuous tunes by name bands the protag is listening to on earphones, pic is dominated by a touristic perspective in the second half and won’t find the critical favor that has eluded Wenders for some time now. Commercial prospects are slim.
Campino, the handsome, tattooed, stubble-faced, arched-eyebrowed, whispery-voiced singer in the popular band Die Toten Hosen, plays fortysomething art photographer Finn, who barely sleeps, streaks around town in a beautiful old sports car and makes major coin doing fashion shoots, notably one featuring the very pregnant Milla Jovovich. He’s also burdened by intimations of death, specifically from drowning, and in a bar is visited by the apparition of a ghostly Lou Reed — a faintly ludicrous sight in context, and certainly one scary enough to drive anyone to leave town.
And where else to go but to Palermo, a labyrinthine city that celebrates a “festival of death” and not a place always renowned for good will to all. Wandering around town taking pictures while listening to his iPod, Finn leads the viewer to quite a few scenic spots and has dreams of Hopper laughing and apparently dogging his steps as arrows come flying at him out of nowhere.
Thus tormented, Finn is fortunate to meet beautiful art restorer Flavia (Giovanna Mezzogiorno), who lends an ear and ultimately takes him in. Although she can’t save the film from its own silliness, Mezzogiorno does provide a gravity and legitimacy of her own, as her mesmerizing eyes and her excellent delivery in English make a dramatic highlight out of a monologue about a personal tragedy, as well as showing up Campino for the non-actor he is. So similar are their looks that Mezzogiorno and Marion Cotillard should play sisters one day.
The philosophical voiceover and climactic exchange about fate between Finn and Death, in the person of Hopper’s Frank, can scarcely be taken seriously, and a great deal of the running time has Finn in idle, just roaming around.
This reps the first time Wenders has shot in his hometown of Dusseldorf and, whether coincidentally or not, the early scenes are particularly evocative, suggesting he should think of setting an entire movie there.
Opening credits, clicking along like still-photograph frames, are striking. Climactic dedication, to “Ingmar and Michelangelo, 30.7.2007,” elicited derisive hoots at Cannes screening, presumably for the discrepancy between the level of the late auteurs’ work and that having just been presented.