Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

"I am the great traitor. There must be no other"

Werner Herzog’s 1972 Adventure-Drama stars his regular collaborator, Klaus Kinski in the role of Spanish soldier Lope de Aguirre who in 1561 while on an expedition in search of the mythical El Dorado, mutinied and took control of the expedition after which time all involved lost their lives, either at the hands of natives or of starvation. Though based on fact and on the life of a real man, much of the story is a fabrication and is only loosely based on real events.

The film’s central themes of lust for power and riches as well as madness and delusion are fully explored in this sparse and bleak film. Kinski can be seen delving deeper and deeper into a frenetic, maddened state as his followers become more disillusioned and his situation becomes more desperate. It is shot in such a way that it often feels like a documentary. There is very little dialogue, plenty of beautiful shots of the Amazon and its surrounding jungle and many of the characters look directly down the camera lens as though they are talking directly to the audience. 

Klaus Kinski in the central role is superbly menacing but understated. In fact the entire film is understated and eerily calm. No fuss is made about a death or even an explosion. It is as if the cast treated these incidents as though they were happening to someone else. Everything feels distant.

While I enjoyed the film, it is not something I would recommend to most people. It is extremely slow and will not be to most people’s tastes. It also suffers from an unfortunate dubbing problem. It was filmed in English as that was the only common language of the cast, but then dubbed into German. As a result, the dialogue never matches up to the audio.

Unfortunately for the film as with so many of Herzog’s Feature Films, the story behind the making of the film is more interesting than the actual film. You can really see the effort that went into making it. Every inch of inhospitable jungle that the cast and crew trekked was real and there are stories of Herzog directing Kinski with a gun to his head and of Kinski, in a rage, shooting off the finger of an extra. Many of the problems that the production faced were actually incorporated into the film!
Herzog’s ability to capture a madman on the precipice is unmatched and he has done it time and time again. This is one of his best examples of that. Aguirre has been placed on many ‘Top Film’ lists and while I didn’t like it enough for that it will be a treat for any Herzog fan and the sort of film that people should try if they are feeling on the adventurous side.   


Click for reviews of the great Herzog documentaries; Grizzly Man, Cave of Forgotten Dreams and Into the Abyss.

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