Archive for the ‘Aguirre: Wrath of God’ Category

Aguirre: the Wrath of God (1972)

May 25, 2007

Netflix has this new service that allows members to view movies online. Not all of their tens of thousands of movies, but a good chunk of them. The service is included in one’s membership. This is particularly useful for those who don’t want to wait for the movie to be delivered or those who want to see something other than what they have home but don’t want to send anything back yet.

Anyway, the first movie I’ve seen in this way is Aguirre, the Wrath of God, a German-language film from 1972, directed by the iconoclastic Werner Herzog. The fictional story is about a Central American crusade by Francisco Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, to find the lost city of El Dorado in the sixteenth century. Trapped in the jungle, Pizarro sends some of his men, along with a bunch of Indian slaves, down a mighty river as a scouting party, in hopes that they’ll find a way out of their mess.

Heading the smaller band is Don Ursua (Ruy Guerra), and his second in command is Don Aguirre (Klaus Kinski). Almost immediately, a raft holding some of the men gets caught in an eddy and spins in circles. The rest of the men can offer no help; in the middle of the night, those in the raft are all dead. Ursua wants to return to Pizarro, who’d given them a deadline of two days, but Aguirre wants to continue, so he stages a mutiny, replacing Ursua with another nobleman, Don Guzman, as their leader – and emperor of El Dorado, whenever it may be found.

As the soldiers and slaves move on, they are reduced in number by a variety of things, including starvation, murder by fellow soldiers, attacks by Indians, and so on. Even with his numbers dwindling, Aguirre presses on, becoming more unhinged and divorced from reality with each passing moment.

The movie is spectacular to behold, especially the opening sequence in which scores of men move down a mountainside along a very treacherous pathway. Gorgeously filmed, the movie was shot by Herzog using a small 35-mm camera, but this is apparent only in the verite’ style of the movie. Each scene is sumptuously framed as if a huge crew with a bloated special-effects budget, instead of with eight men and a few dollars. (Okay, I exaggerate.)

It’s not a movie without some wild history, either. Herzog was known for being… well, larger than life. Still is, of course, but even at 30 years old he was arrogant, self-centered, and a bit maniacal. Klaus Kinski, a generation older than Herzog, was similarly driven and crazed, often reaching an intensity level in his performances that was matched only by that of his demeanor off the set. Together, the two worked on five films before their relationship finally combusted; Kinksi died in 1991.

Highly recommended. It’s subtitled, but for once that didn’t bother me much.