Thursday, 30 March 2017

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

Year of Release:  1972
Director:  Werner Herzog
Screenplay:  Werner Herzog
Starring:  Klaus Kinski, Helena Rojo, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro
Running Time:  94 minutes
Genre:  Historical adventure

In the year 1560 a large number of Spanish conquistadors, lead by Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles), and their captives, descend from the Andes into the Amazon jungle in search of the fabled El Dorado, the City of Gold.  Finding their way blocked by a fast-flowing river, Pizarro sends a scouting party downstream to find supplies.  Struggling through the harsh jungle conditions, flooding, hostile natives and a lack of food and supplies, their morale and sanity break down, as the group's second-in-command Don Lope de Aguirre (Kinski) becomes increasingly paranoid and plots a violent rebellion.

This is a mesmerizing film, full of memorable images from the opening shots of the procession in single file descending the mist-shrouded Andes, to the hallucinatory closing frames.  Shot entirely on location with a low budget, the production was beset by problems, not least of which were Herzogs frequent clashes with the famously mercurial Kinski, reports of which have entered cinema lore.  This is an intensely physical film, the muggy, humid atmosphere almost seems to radiate out of the screen.  This is a story of a mad dreamer with an all-consuming obsession (a favourite theme of Herzog's).  At times it takes on the qualities of a fable, even though it sometimes feels almost like a documentary.  Above it all there is the star turn of Klaus Kinski, who appears at the start of the film as a man already close to the edge, with his bulging icy blue eyes and twisted stance, seemingly forever buffeted by winds no-one else can sense, he owns the film, alternately ranting and raging at his men, or tender towards his daughter (Cecilia Rivera), who accompanies the party.  The film is very loosely based on a historical character, although most of the characters and plot details are fictional.            
Everything about the film has a hauntingly strange quality, which sometimes becomes almost surreal, partly due to the film's eerie, dreamlike score from the band Popol Vue.

 Klaus Kinski is Aguirre, the Wrath of God

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