Monday, May 16, 2016

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD (1972)

December 1560, South America.  Somewhere deep in the jungles of Peru, an expedition of Spanish conquistadors and a few hundred Indian slaves have been searching fruitlessly for the legendary lost city of gold, El Dorado.  Beaten down from all of the mud and hardship of the journey, the leader sends a group of 40 soldiers and slaves to scout down the river in rafts and then return within a week.  Almost immediately things go from bad to worse as the river plays havoc with their rafts and even floods the jungle for miles inland in all directions.  As the situation deteriorates, the psychotic second-in-command Don Lope de Aguirre (played brilliantly by Klaus Kinski) uses the chaos to take control of the doomed expedition.  And what does he do once he's in control?  Pretty much just rant and rave and make horrible decisions while his men starve to death and slowly go insane.  He does take the time to tell a small monkey that "I am the Wrath of God!" as the monkey shits on him.

Told with an increasingly fever dream-like quality AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD starts out with an almost documentary-like style and then descends into madness along with it's characters by mixing in surrealistic elements (actors staring at the camera, a boat in a tree, shots that look like paintings, a talking decapitated head, etc.) and a guerrilla filmmaking aesthetic by only using a small crew to get in extremely tight with the cast as they waste away on their last raft.

Honestly, AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD just has to be seen to be believed because my stupid little peanut brain could never properly describe the brilliance onscreen.  Kinski's bizarre and often unhinged performance...his spider-like movements and lingering stares that would be right at home in a 19th Century insane asylum.  The scene where he cracks another actor over the head with a sword is completely nuts!  (Make sure to watch Werner's 1999 documentary MY BEST FIEND where he interviews the actor/victim who shows off the still visible scar across his head!!!)  The actual jungle locations...I honestly have no idea how somebody didn't die during the river rapids scenes.  And probably best of all: Herzog's godlike amount of talent and luck to somehow gather all of these moments and assemble them into a film that gets even more impressive after dozens of viewings.

AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD is one of the highlights of Cinema. Required viewing.
They accidentally filmed the houseboats the film crew and actors were living in.

Werner Herzog's hand.