Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes; adventure drama, Germany / Peru / Mexico, 1972; D: Werner Herzog, S: Klaus Kinski, Peter Berling, Helena Rojo, Del Negro
In 1560, a group of Spanish Conquistadors are having trouble walking through the Peruvian jungle. They are searching for El Dorado. Due to a food shortage, they send a couple of people upstream through the river to get help. But when one of the boats gets destroyed, there is a rebellion and the short tempered Aguirre places Don Pedro de Ursua as their puppet-leader. But they don't know that the Indians only invented El Dorado to fool the invaders. On their long way, the expedition members start to lose their reason, they are shot with arrows and have lost all their food. When everyone dies, Aguirre remains the only survivor on the wooden boat floating across the river.

A lot of things is annoying in the story and the frenzy-nihilistic atmosphere sometimes seems unnecessary, but there is still something special in "Aguirre", the first project of director Werner Herzog and hot tempered actor Klaus Kinski. About what kind of catastrophes and feuds they went through while shooting in the South American jungle - in the newspapers, some incidents were overblownto to such extent that they even reported how Herzog directed Kinski with a shotgun on the set because the actor was fed up with everything and threatened to leave the set - the viewers should watch Herzog's documentary "My Favorite Enemy" from '99. Kinski is brilliantly picked as the mad megalomaniac Aguirre, while his expedition that ends in a disaster reminds a little bit of Coppola's "Apocalypse", expect that it's far more elegant and less suspenseful. Kinski plays Aguirre so bizarrely that he even shouts at a horse ("Get out of my way!") and brings a small dose of irony with his frenzy hand movements, while one of the soldiers hallucinates after being shot, saying: "I'm just imagining this arrow". Herzog was never able to craft suspense like Hitchcock, which is why some viewers perceive the story as boring, yet it's obvious he is more interested in evoking the dreamy, esoteric side of nature: his moving camera is unmatched and he has a sense for poetry in the scene where a butterfly lands on a soldier. Maybe "Aguirre" is slightly overhyped and drags a bit, yet the finale with the mad Kinski among hundreds of small apes is one of the most expressionistic and unforgettable images of the 70s cinema.


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