The main reason I started this blog was to make me watch more movies, and to vary the kinds of movies I watched. The first part of that has been well and truly accomplished with me watching hundreds of movies for the first time, instead of falling back on old favourites over and over again. But l’m not sure if I’ve varied my selections enough. I still watch mainly American movies, with directors, writers and actors that make them a pretty safe bet. So this year, I’m forcing myself to seek out more international movies. With Foreign Language Weekends, every weekend(ish) during 2016, I’ll review two(ish) non-English language movies.
“All the land to our left and all the land to our right now belongs to us. I solemnly and formally take possession of all this land.”
Is it possible to claim that someone is one of my favourite directors, even when I’ve barely seen any of his work? Off the top of my head, Grizzly Man and Rescue Dawn might be the only Wener Herzog movies I’ve actually seen, yet, I think he’s awesome. That thought of awesomeness is based purely on interviews I’ve heard with Herzog, and stories I’ve heard about Herzog. He seems like one of cinemas greatest nut cases, making crazy movies in crazy ways. His perfectly deadpan, German delivery makes everything he says fascinating, and his obsession with the deadliness of nature is immensely intriguing. So, it was time to revel a little more in the crazy ass work of this brilliant weirdo, with Aguirre, the Wrath of God.
After being decimated by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, Incan Indians make up a story of the lost city of gold, El Dorado. Using it to lure the clueless Spaniards into the depths of the hostile jungle, the plan works, and a company of Spanish soldiers heads off, risking it all, in search of the mythical city.
When the jungle becomes too thick to penetrate with their impractical cargo of canons, noble women and metal armor, the group splits, sending a smaller contingent down river on makeshift rafts. When the river becomes just as traitorous as the jungle, they scramble to make their way back to the larger group. Within this smaller regiment is the narrator of the story, a monk named Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro), and the ruthless soldier, Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), who will stop at nothing to take command.
Shot totally on location, in real jungles and on real rivers, with the aid of no special effects, Aguirre, the Wrath of God is one of the most visceral and intense movies I’ve ever seen. With a hand held camera and a feeling of everything being shot on the fly as Herzog makes his actors literally live the lives of their characters, it feels like this movie could fall apart at any second. And that uneasiness only makes everything seem all the more real.
The other main contributor to the constant on edge feeling of this movie is its main star. Klaus Kinski turns in a super bizarre, super creepy, super whack job performance in the title role. From his quiet brooding, to his fits of rage, to his cold calculations, Kinksi manages to seem even more dangerous and unpredictable than the jungle and river around him.
Aguirre, the Wrath of God is exactly what I wanted from a Werner Herzog movie. Everything about it is as crazy and freewheeling and potentially disastrous as I hoped it would be. And it’s that constant teetering on disaster, while never quite succumbing to it, that makes it such heart pounding experience to watch.