Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes); Werner Herzog; 1972= This film is widely considered to be a critical classic and has been a source of inspiration for films such as Apocalypse Now. Set in 1560, a group of Spanish conquistadors are marching through the Andes in search of El Dorado. Their leader Pizarro, seeing the difficulties the men are having, orders a group of forty men to travel by raft to scope out the scenery beyond. He puts Pedro de Ursua in charge with Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) as the second in command. But as the group move forward, Aguirre’s ego and madness get out of control and he puts the whole group in danger. The critics tend to get pretty gushy about this film, with the word masterpiece thrown around quite a lot. I can see where they’re coming from. Herzog’s almost documentary like style of direction is impressive, while the film’s minimal style serves to create a tense, monotonous atmosphere that perfectly fits the scenario. The film pretty much rests on Kinski, a volatile actor whose personal life is about as famous as his acting. He puts some of this eccentric attitude in to Aguirre, creating a truly haunting and enigmatic character. His madness is subtle and understated, but still quite terrifying at times. He is without a doubt a true villain who deserves a lot of recognition. But while I can recognise the talent in the film, I have to say I didn’t really like it. It’s a very minimalist feature so there is little dialogue or music and that can get quite boring. While the story is an interesting idea, watching people walk through a jungle for 5 minutes with no dialogue isn’t exactly fascinating. I think that film critics love this from a more academic point of view, because of it’s impact and the wider statement it’s making. I think Aguirre is a fantastic character, and the last half of the film concerning his descent in to madness, has some really intriguing and memorable moments. But as a viewer it’s not something I would choose to watch again. Luckily it’s only about an hour long, so if you want to try something new or see what all the fuss is about then it’s not going to be too demanding. But it’s clear that the concern is the artistic quality, not the entertainment factor. I’m aware that probably makes me sound like a philistine, but sometimes a film just lacks the ability to keep the average audience member satisfited.
Werner Herzog’s first collaboration with Klaus Kinski can best be described as an odd yet poetic piece of work. Kinski is Aguirre, the leader of a rebel expedition in search of El Dorado, a mystic place covered in gold near the Amazon in South America. As the journey progresses, Aguirre is going insane over the thought of the gold, and his crew is suffering the consequences of his madness.
It’s a story that develops quite precarious. Kinski’s madness is apparent in earlier scenes, but it doesn’t really develop until the last couple of scenes. Before that, nothing much is happening. The crew is on its way to El Dorado, has encounters with Indians and grows hungry. Once Kinski gets going, some tremendous scenes are shot. He is perfect for this role. The look on his face and his overall appearance are uncanny and almost scary. He is intimidating, and seems to be on the verge of exploding every second of the movie. It’s a role he is familiar with, reprising it in movies like Jack The Ripper (1976) and Fitzcarraldo (1982). The disbelief on the faces of his crew when they realise he has gone mad is striking and understandable. As the audience one can only feel sympathy for his crew.
Herzog manages to create an odd atmosphere. Movies set in the 16th century have the tendency to become quite dull and extremely dated, but by use of an effective score by Popol Vuh it escapes such tendencies. A better screenplay and cinematography could have made this movie even better, but it even almost profits from its flaws.