Wim Wenders’ debut commercial feature film gets a crisp restoration and reissue after many decades in legal limbo. A welcome start to the career of the “king of the road (movie)” with its combination of abstract characters and understated revelations, this makes for essential viewing in terms of understanding how the director started out. Fully restored in 4K and remastered to showcase its mono sound glory,The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick is a drama/thriller/road movie worthy of discovery or rediscovery. “Ideally the film would belong to the public,” Wenders has suggested. Indeed it should.

Having completed his studies at film school with Summer In The City (1970) unemployed graduate Wenders was seeking a film project. His friend and fellow music aficionado Peter Handke had become a successful author and his best-selling novella Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter was available for filming. The Austrian author recommended Wenders for the job. The pair’s friendship would continue throughout much of Wenders’ work including the middle of the road movie trilogy The Wrong Move (Falsche Bewegung, 1975) as well as the exemplary Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin, 1987)

Bloch (Arthur Brauss) is a goalie in a football team but his professional capabilities take a downward turn when, whilst playing for his league side, a lapse in attention leads to him letting in a half-hearted goal which he disputes acrimoniously with the referee. This virulent diatribe leads to his dismissal from the pitch. Now wandering amiss in places unfamiliar to him, he finds solace in cinema, particularly with cashier Gloria (Erika Pluhar), whom he stalks, flirts with and starts up a relationship. This culminates in a date at her apartment resulting in sexual activities that evolve into strangulation. Covering his presence in her flat, he travels to the Austrian border, apparently devoid of emotion or purpose, although his proclivity for bars and broads leads him to further flirtatious encounters and, perhaps providing a raison d’etre for his escape, his former acquaintance Hertha (Kai Fischer). He continues travelling but, with the mysterious disappearance of a local mute boy and increased speculation surrounding the murder of Gloria making headlines within the media, will events – and the authorities – catch up with him?

In many ways The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick is a difficult film to interpret. It has been described as “a thriller without any suspense,” an apt assessment as our anti-hero drifts from place to place without any apparent motivation, reacting to each situation as his mood takes him, whether that results in a romantic encounter, picking a fight or even committing murder. Its pace is languid; Wenders himself has commented that, “the language of the film was a Hitchcock film except nothing happens.” The unpretentious and detached nature of the lead character is also reminiscent of many of the films of French thriller director Claude Chabrol. Music is essential to the narrative, both aurally in creating a diegetic accompaniment to proceedings, but also visually, as we learn of Bloch’s fascination with jukeboxes – the only means for him to listen to music whilst on the road. It is ironic, then, that the film’s re-release was nearly scuppered due to Wenders not being able to secure the rights for much of the original soundtrack, resulting in an extensive reworking, which is seamless in execution.

In the extra features accompanying the Blu-ray release, Wenders ponders the English title of the film and the difficulty in translating from the German; many of us remember it as The Goalkeeper’s Fear of the Penalty. In his introduction to the film Wenders, filmed in 2017, provides insight into its creation, its background, its financing and the eventual legal issues surrounding the music, as well as the painstaking restoration process. This is fascinating viewing but perhaps something you should view less as an introduction and more of a coda so as not to obviate the tone, pace and narrative of the film. The Restoring Time documentary covers the whole story and process of the Wim Wender’s Foundation acquisition and restoration of his films. The extras also include the undergraduate short 16mm film Same Player Shoots Again (1967) which is apparently a metaphor for pinball, predominantly depicting a repeated one reel tracking shot in altered tinted tones. For those purchasing the Blu-Ray there is an short booklet which provides reviews, before and after restoration shots, analysis and a contemporary essay by Wenders, written during the film-making process of The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick as well as his thoughts regarding the music alterations necessary for the film’s re-release. A welcome opportunity to catch a compelling and unusual feature-film debut. Hopefully other rarities from the back catalogue (as well as nicely re-cleaned perennial favourites) will emerge for our viewing pleasure.