Friday, April 3, 2009

Day Eighty-One: Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972) - Rank 4.5/5


This film would work as an excellent companion piece to Herzog's later film,"Fitzcarraldo." Both period pieces are set in the Peruvian jungle with a large portion of the film taking place on the river, and both star Klaus Kinski. Furthermore, the titular characters in both films are dreamers on a quest to fulfill their dreams. However, where "Fitzcarraldo" focuses on the blissful ignorance and idealism of seeking out an improbable end, "Aguirre" scrutinizes the madness that arises when an individual becomes hellbent on achieving a goal.

The feature takes place in the 16th century, as a Spanish caravan lead by Gonzolo Pizarro desperately seeks the mythical city of El Dorado. When rations run short, Pirazzo sends out a scout team to look for the city and/or supplies. Aguirre soon catalyzes a mutiny within the party and the rest of the film follows his power-hungry, egotistic quest for the legendary city of gold as his band of rebels are slowly picked off by disease, cannibals and the traitorous acts of one another.

Kinski undergoes an unsettling transformation throughout the film as Aguirre becomes more and more obsessed with riches as the odds build against him. He becomes the type of character where you find yourself cringing during much of his time on screen, because you never know what he's going to do next (commensurate with "Blue Velvet's" Frank Booth or "No Country for Old Men's" Anton Chigruh). There's an inherent sadness in watching the character as well, because unlike antagonists of his ilk, he cannot ever achieve his desires. The viewer knows that no such city exist and his treason, murder and madness are all for naught. To create such a mongrel of a man and then illicit sympathy from the audience may seem like an impossible task, but Herzog does so by creating a film so hypnotic, you often feel that you're watching a dream.

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