Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) – Werner Herzog

 

So as I continue my exploration of the War genre with the Great Movies – 100 Years of Film book, I dive into a recommendation for my viewing of Henry V, this one lets me take in a Werner Herzog film, and it’s simply stunning to watch, though runs a bare 93 minutes.

The cinematography is simply gorgeous, it was literally impossible for me not to watch it, it really was stunning. And I did a little research and learned that this is one of the films that blurs performance and reality, as the film was completely unstaged, and unrehearsed, so the reactions are real, and captured as they happen. It’s a fascinating film to watch simply for that, add that to the fantastic South American settings, and this one comes up as a winner.

It is the 16th century, and Klaus Kinski portrays Don Lope de Aguirre, who is a member of a Spanish Conquistador expedition into the South American jungle in search of El Dorado. They leave the primary group to set off in search of the fabled golden city, but once they have travelled far enough, in Don Lope’s opinion, he seizes control of the group, and leads them himself, despite his rage, and glimmers of insanity.

The group has to fight the elements and the landscape, with madness and desperation becoming their constant companions. Each member seems lost, not only physically but emotionally and spiritually, and they fight to survive the jungle and each other.

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But this is foremost, Kinski’s film, and he, much like the landscape and scenery, is simply impossible not to watch. He turns in a troubling, near frightening performance, and as the viewer, you begin to wonder how much of this was performance, and how much of it was reality leaking through, as the film crew (a meager eight person unit) and actors literally struggle to survive.

It’s a stunning film to watch, some of it is painful, the treatment of that poor horse… And watching the swath of destruction they leave behind them, in their quest, but by film’s end, it seems even that had no effect on nature, on the existence of the jungle itself.

This was one I had heard about, had heard rumors of, but had never seen it, and while it is not truly a war film, unless you count man against nature, and his own nature, it was a fantastic experience to sit there and watch the film unfold.

Kinski has always struck me as a bit of an odd duck, and this film only served to bolster that opinion, though in a good way. He, like Herzog, strike me as artists, and both of them put it all on the screen, the good and the bad, and it always ends up being a fascinating experience.

Any other Herzog recommendations?

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