Sunday, March 15, 2009

Day Fifty-Two: Fitzcarraldo (1982) - Rank 5/5


A fascinating character study and beautifully shot, this film also stands as a testament of the great lengths some dedicated directors will go to in order to realize their vision on the screen. The titular character, portrayed by longtime Herzog collaborator Klaus Kinski, is a quixotic individual who has aspirations of building an opera house in the middle of the rainforest in order to introduce the "uncivilized" to the beauty of Caruso's classical works. His zeal for opera is evident from the initial scene where he and his girlfriend arrive just in time for a performance after rowing up the Amazon River in a canoe for hours. Fitzcarraldo hatches a hare-brained, "get rich quick" scheme to help him fund his dream; he must reach an untapped field of rubber trees deep in the heart of Peru, isolated by impassible rapids and too far from civilization to make access by land practical. His solution? Go upstream in an adjacent river and cross over the mountains so that the claim can be staked. The problems? A disloyal, thuggish crew, a lack of funds, deadly jungle native and the obvious: lugging a steamboat over an entire mountain without damaging it.

Kinski is absolutely wonderful as the positively delusional Fitzcarraldo, reminiscent of Baron Munchausen. And like Munchausen, an air of magic seems to follow him, often times that magic being produced by the sounds of Caruso or Waggner emanating from his photograph to calm "cultured man" and "savage" alike. Constantly clad in a three-piece white suit (in the middle of a South American rainforest, mind you), he exudes a sense of inexorable self-confidence that aids him in convincing the natives to help him lug his steamboat over a large summit to the adjacent river. Simply put, Werner Herzog creates an enthralling and endearing character study of an undeterred dreamer of the grandest sense. Despite the trials and tribulations Fitzcarraldo must grapple with, his smile and love for opera (as well as the overpowering desire to instill this love in others) never depart from him.

I became intrigued about the film after first hearing about it in "Incident at Loch Ness" of all places (for it served as ample material for mocking Werner Herzog). When I heard that Herzog had actually drug a vintage steamboat over a mountain in the rainforest for the sake of authenticity to his film, I was nonplussed. I won't beat around the bush - it takes balls to commit to such an undertaking all for the sake of filmaking. In this modern day and age, studios would force a filmmaker to settle for computer-generated effects or, at the very least, model work. However, Herzog was committed to bring his own vision to life and set out to make one of the greatest on-screen marvels ever documented a reality. This brings the film to an even higher level, for not only is it an astounding achievement on celluloid, Fitzcarraldo and his impossible dream are also an extension of Herzog and his goals for the film. Every bit of the technical prowess, dedication and, well, love behind the film is evident in the movie, making it a quintessential film for the director, as well as the industry as a whole.

Watch the Trailer

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