Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972)

June 5th, 2013
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: Werner Herzog

Script: Werner Herzog

Producer: Werner Herzog

Cast: Klaus Kinski, Cecilia Rivera, Ruy Guerra, Helena Rojo, Del Negro, Peter Berling, Daniel Ades, Armando Polanah, Edward Roland

German                                  93mins                       1972               Drama

A quite extraordinary film and for a great many reasons. From a sketchy idea, Werner Herzog took a bunch of 300 cast and crew up the Amazon to make a film that very nearly did for the cast and crew, through both accident and near starvation.

Based on a true story taken from a diary left by one of the original party, Klaus Kinski gives perhaps his greatest performance as an unhinged Richard III type figure, taking a bunch of conquistadors on a raft deep into uncharted territory, circa 1560, in search of the mythical El Dorado, the City of Gold.

Exploring similar inner territory to Apocalypse Now, with a river trip into darkest recesses of the mind, this film is a slow-burner but very much worth the ride. Towards the end it drew gasps of incredulity from the audience. That’s quite hard to do with a bunch of seasoned movie reviewers.

AGUIRRE was all shot on one camera. A camera Herzog liberated from the soon to be Munich film school, when he was refused the loan of one. The Amazon plays the all-consuming Antagonist of the piece and what an antagonist; the ignorant Spanish explorers are surrounded by unseen tribes that threaten to knock off the unwary traveller. Combined with two fine Ladies of the Court, infighting amongst the group, starvation, a lack of experience or equipment and a large bunch of unwilling slaves and it’s a cocktail for disaster.

Aguirre has hovered in the Top 100 Greatest Films Of All time in several illustrious lists. It’s one of those crazy, legendary shoots you read about from time to time, where, despite quite ridiculous odds, the film gets made, although it perhaps isn’t the film they thought they were making when they first set out.

Kinski is a notoriously difficult actor to work with and it’s said that at several points, the crew were so hungry, Herzog was forced to pawn his own belongings to feed them. Whatever the circumstances, the film is quite brilliant. Perhaps the duress that everyone was under lending itself very genuinely to the end product. The performances are terrific throughout and none more so that the single-minded Kinski as Aguirre, the personification of the Wrath of God.

A truly amazing film, epitomising the filmmaking endeavour of the Seventies and a most welcome reboot to boot. One you watch through your fingers, with a growing sense of horror and incredulity. Nothing like it would ever be attempted now. AR

MY BEST FRIEND, (MEIN BESTER FEIND, 2011), Werner Herzog’s documentary about his  work with KLAUS KINSKI and their outrageous love/hate ralationship, is an interesting companion piece to AGUIRRE providing extraordinary, at times hilarious, comment and footage about the making of the film.
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