Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Signs of Life


Lebenszeichen; Drama, Germany, 1968; D: Werner Herzog, S: Peter Brogle, Wolfgang Reichmann, Athina Zacharopoulou, Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg

World War II. Soldier Stoszek is brought to the hospital wounded. Together with wife Nora and soldiers Meinhard and Becker, he gets transported to an isolated community on some Greek island to rest in peace. As time passes by, nothing is happening. Meinhard is so bored he starts constructing a cockroach trap, painting the door and hypnotizing a chicken while Stoszek is walking through the town and observing statues. Another man shows up who claims to be a king even though he looks like an average peasant. Stoszek suddenly goes crazy from monotony, puts the dynamite storage under his control and threatens to blow the island sky high. But the Germans defeat him.

The first feature length film by cult director Werner Herzog were "Signs of Life", a drama with a minimalistic story in which almost nothing happens and thus offers an allegory on the empty, monotone and useless human existence. The hero Stoszek (Herzog seems to like that name because he shot the excellent drama "Stoszek" 9 years later that doesn't have anything to do with this film) is increasingly becoming so bored with his rest on an isolated Greek island that he even observes how his colleague Meinhard tries to hypnotize a chicken (!) using a line drawn by chalk, but fails since the bird just stays lying there on the ground. They even start a contest in leaning on a wall in a sitting position. It's impressive how Herzog shot some of the scenes, for instance a fly that was inside a small toy, all actors are great and it seems he doesn't even care about the war going on somewhere in distance, but it's a pity that the film contains too much empty moments, which is why it becomes rather tiresome. One can feel a sure artistic hand, but not quite that genius that would later turn Herzog into an icon of German New Wave.

Grade:++

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