Friedrich (Patrick Bauchau), a German director, is shooting a black-and-white movie about the survivors of a nuclear holocaust when his cameraman (Sam Fuller) tells him there is no more film. The cast and crew stop working and grow restless in the small Portuguese town. They are awkward and uncertain with each other. Time crawls as an actress practices violin, an actor listens to shortwave, the script girl records her feelings on tape, and the screenplay writer drowns his sorrows in booze. One of the characters observes: "Life without stories is not worth living."

When he is unable to reach Gordon (Allen Goorwitz), the American backer and producer, Friedrich flies to Los Angeles to get the funds needed to salvage the movie. He locates Gordon hiding out in a mobile home: the Mafia is after him for not paying back the laundered money they loaned him for the movie.

Wim Wenders's The State of Things captures the behind-the-scenes tensions, boredom and messes of movie-making. The rambling screenplay by the director and Robert Kramer makes some good points about story-telling, the clash between illusion and reality, and the ominous presence of impermanence and death. Although there are only a few scenes that break through to some intensity, the last quarter of the tale is both surprising and gripping.