Saturday, November 25, 2006

Aguirre: The Wrath of God

In 1560 and 61, a group of conquistadors from Spain made a doomed attempt to invade El Dorado, the city of gold, according to legend. This Werner Herzog movie was shot in the Amazon and its tributaries on a small budget. Aquirre was the second-in-command in the expedition and he is played by Klaus Kinski.
Upon arriving at a foot of a tall hill, Gonzalo Pizarro, who leads the expedition, sends a smaller troupe of soldiers on rafts to look for El Dorado. After a mutiny led by Aquirre, a noble is installed as the dummy Emperor of the land. Aquirre is one who really controls the men. The group is killed off one by one by the Indians, who are almost never seen attacking in the movie.
In the last shot, Aquirre is seen walking his crab-like walk on the raft,long lost in wild river waters, still dreaming of the lost city of untold riches. He picks up a monkey murmuring that he is 'The Wrath of God', a ruthless dictator, who is capable of leading the people to El Dorado. But sadly, none in his group is still alive, and it seems unlikely that Aquirre, in his state of frenzied madness, will make it out of the jungle alive.
Herzog, who wrote the screenplay of the movie during the course of a soccer season, freely mixes fact and fiction. He came up with the sparse dialogue for the movie, often only minutes before the shot. When a river swelled flooding the location, he incorporated that into the script.
This is also an independent movie in the truest sense of the term. Herzog made the movie exactly like the way he wanted to, casting his surgeon and even a retarded beggar from the streets in the movie in small roles. The music by Florian Fricke, Herzog's friend, is a combination of natural sounds and instrumental music.
But the most strange thing about the movie, which is full of strange happenings, is Kinski, who must be well over six feet. Kinksi was a friend of Herzog's and the two shared a strained relationship during the shooting.
Kinski, who has a long face and piercing blue eyes, invented a walk - jerks and sideways motions - that is positively scary. He also pretended that one of his arms was shorter than the other, and his costume is strapped to his body in such a way that it looks like he needs it to stay in one piece.
This movie is a series of arresting visuals shot in a documentary style. What makes it great are Herzog's interpretations. Unless you are incredibly sensitive to them, you might miss understanding why this movie is so haunting.

(A movie-length interview that comes with the DVD helps us see the movie from the director's viewpoint. It may not be advisable to see the movie if you don't have the option of watching it once more along with the interview.)