Friday, 16 December 2011

#14 Germany — Fitzcarraldo (1982)

This time, the jungle through the eyes of a German via an Irishman.

Why I chose this: After being left a bit cold by Aguirre, but thoroughly enjoying Bad Lieutenant, Fitzcarraldo was the next Herzog step for me.

Fitzcarraldo is the story of an opera-obsessed Irishman, Brian Sweeny Fitzgerald, whose dream to bring the music of Caruso to the Amazonian jungle. After failing to find funding among the rubber barons of his town, he sets out on a quest to tap the rubber supply of a large expanse of untouched land, protected by harsh nature and superstitious natives.

Few films have scenes which have an incredible visceral impact and make me truly feel the sweat on the brows of the characters. Action films are generally far too ridiculous and shallow for me to really get drawn in to. The only scenes which immediately come to mind for this are the bell casting in Andrei Rublev, the shelter building in Dersu Uzala, the chase through the woods in Diamonds of the Night and now the arduous dragging of a 300 ton steamship over a mountain in Fitzcarraldo. Fitzgerald decides that this is the best way to get to the rubber, rather than braving the rapids which would surely mean death.

The main reason Fitzcarraldo has its incredible impact is that Herzog is a madman. Only someone who stole his first camera, got shot in an interview and carried on, threatened to kill his actor if he didn't finish a scene and jumped into a cactus and ate his own shoe due to bets would decide that the best way to film a boat being dragged over a mountain was to drag a boat over a mountain. The picture gets its raw intensity from the singular vision of its artist. The only thing more ambitious than Fitzgerald's idea is the film itself.

Klaus Kinski is a miracle as the quirky and quite possibly insane lead. His character consists of little more than pure drive towards his goal, which Kinski displays perfectly with his sporadic relationship with Molly (the beautiful Claudia Cardinale) and his outbursts when obstacles appear which threaten the realisation of his dream.

Fitzcarraldo is a film which aims to do one thing and do it well. It succeeds at this admirably, presenting an amazingly focused and ironic exploration of blind ambition. Viewers looking for a film which is in equal measures an entertaining adventure and an intelligent thematic study will find few films above this.

Also recommended from Germany:
Fritz Lang (M, Metropolis, Dr. Mabuse)
F.W. Murnau (Nosferatu, Sunrise, Faust)
Robert Weine (The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari)

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