Dr. Jaffe: Ringolds Žigis
Binding: Andris Pudāns
The year is 1928 and, in some large German city, three young men are scraping together a meager existence fixing cars. Dissatisfaction with the living conditions, hunger, and an aggressive youth population are growing exponentially. Until now Robert, Gottfried, and Otto had found purpose in their lives and respite from the outside world through their friendship.
based on the novel by Erich Maria Remarque, published by Kiepenheuer & Witsch (Cologne, Germany)
Permission arranged by Mohrbooks AG (Zurich, Switzerland) on behalf of New York University, successor-in-interest to the literary rights of
The Estate of the Late Paulette Goddard Remarque.
It is 1928, and in a large German city three young men, who have been together since their school days, and later through war, work in their shop and make a meager living fixing cars. All around them is crisis and despair, and more and more often disaffected and increasingly aggressive youths take to the streets. Robert, Gottfried, and Otto find support and happiness through their friendship.
Robert is sleeping. He has a dream in which, together with his friends Otto and Gottfried, he once again experiences the horrors of the war – so deeply have they rooted in himself and the world around him. In the dream, Gottfried nearly dies. Robert awakes with a start.
Workshop. Gottfried and Otto arrive to congratulate Robert on his birthday. Robert still cannot shake what he has just dreamt and is sullen to the attempts by his friends to cheer him up. Robert’s mood does not improve and so his friends put him in the car and take him to a bar.
Bar. Everyone at the bar greets Robert – he is a regular there. Various outcasts have gathered at the bar to seek life’s truths in rum and cognac. After having a couple of glasses, the friends leave.
The three friends have named their car “Karl”. At first glance it looks like a wreck but they have tuned its engine. "Karl" is the Phantom of the highway and loved by everyone. On the way from the bar Robert, Gottfried and Otto get into a drag race with another car. "Karl" easily outruns their challenger. The friends stop and celebrate their victory – even Robert’s mood has finally improved.
Two people get out of the car the friends just bested: the driver, Binding, and his companion – a very beautiful young woman. While Otto and Gottfried converse with Binding, assuring him that “Karl” would not be sold for any amount of money, Robert makes Pat’s acquaintance. They decide to take a walk together. Robert has never before felt so wonderful! At the end of the walk, Pat begins to feel ill and is about to faint, but Robert catches her in time. Pat quickly recovers and Robert accompanies her home. Before saying good-bye, Pat invites Robert for an evening at the opera. For Robert this is an invitation into Pat’s world, which is very different from the simple auto mechanic’s.
Workshop. Robert arrives and tells his friends about his stroll with Pat. He is confused and rebellious, wanting to turn the girl’s invitation down – he is not refined and refuses to be. His friends talk Robert out of rash decisions and teach him how to behave in fine places
and how to dance. Gottfried and Otto also give him a nice suit – now Robert is ready
for his date with Pat.
Date. At the opera Robert feels uncomfortable. Everyone recognizes Pat and greets her yet pay no attention to Robert, which makes him feel alienated and wretched. Robert becomes a laughing stock by not observing the proper etiquette. For him, the evening turns into a nightmare, but Pat sticks with him to the end, ignoring the derision of others.
Robert and Pat by the sea. Love and dreams of a future together has intoxicated them both. For the first time, they feel the desire to outlive the present day. Pat faints, and Robert understands that these fainting spells are no coincidence. Robert is overcome by a feeling of impending loss.
Hospital. A team of doctors examines Pat – the situation is dire. Robert stands among the medical personnel in their lab coats. This is not what he had been hoping for this evening. A lot of money is needed for Pat’s treatment which Robert resolves to find somehow. The doctors do not let Robert see Pat – she needs to rest and regain her strength.
Workshop. Robert feels that the whole world has collapsed on top of him. Is it not possible that what is happening is just a nightmare imbued with all the world's pain? Robert is pulled from his despair by his trusty friends. Where can they get the money needed for Pat's treatment? Gottfried and Otto decide to sell the car to Binding, ignoring Robert’s objections.
The friends take "Karl" for one last spin – they own this moment together, and none of them realizes that it will never be like this again. Soon everything will change. "Karl", the Phantom of the Highway, is sold to Binding. The friends give the money to Robert who does not waste time and rushes to see Pat.
People gather in the streets. Gottfried is drawn into a brawl. Although he does not support the coming regime, his death amongst the crazed mob is nevertheless completely accidental and senseless. Otto attempts to save his friend but fails. He runs through the crowd to find Gottfried’s murderer.
Robert meets with Pat. They both have such an appetite for life! They both desperately want to believe that tomorrow will come, and will be followed by many happy years… Pat and Robert dream to the very last moment, when she dies in his arms. The moment of happiness has passed, fleetingly. No matter how he tries, Robert cannot shake this nightmare, from which there is no escape, no repite, no refuge...