AGUIRRE, THE WRATH OF GOD
One of Werner Herzog's most famous films to date, Aguirre, The Wrath Of God was released in 1972 and starred Klaus Kinski as unhinged conquistador Aguirre who slowly comes to lead a small expedition, an offshoot of the one led by explorer Pizarro, towards El Dorado (the elusive "City Of Gold") but, more likely, towards desperation and folly.
Werner Herzog's first collaboration with Klaus Kinski was famously a lot more explosive behind the scenes than it was on screen. The troubled actor's performance as Aguirre, in the movie itself, was brilliantly quiet and intense, save for a few short outbursts. But, along with a tough jungle setting to approach, Herzog had to deal with Kinski's constant, very vocal protests and creative differences. That Aguirre, The Wrath Of God was made at all is a miracle, especially on such a low budget. The film follows a large group of conquistadors and enslaved indigenous people as they set out to find the City Of Gold in what is very clearly a lost cause that can only end in misery. Aguirre is second in command for most of the film and he even appoints a man named Guzmán to be the first Emperor of El Dorado and lead the much smaller group there after he stages a mutiny.
Herzog's stunning, purposely tight yet wide opening shot sets the stage perfectly for the director's vision of the events depicted in the film: an uncomfortable, chaotic, poetically doomed descent into madness. Pizarro's expedition works as a microcosm of a civilization desperately in search of glory, validation or simply meaning which is too rotten at the core, too chaotic and lost to ever truly get there. Aguirre's actions are calculated but his overall goal turns out to be even crazier than the original plan and the result is exactly what it was always going to be. Werner Herzog's film is a typically strange tale with some fantastic lead performances, excellent writing, absurdist splashes of irony and a mood unlike any other. Here is a low-budget film about Spanish conquistadors dubbed in German with several non-actors in the cast and yet you buy it totally.
Through Aguirre, The Wrath Of God, Werner Herzog explores different facets of our society from tyrannical leaders to religion, slavery and how destructive its so-called evolution can be. This remains one of Herzog's masterpieces and Kinski's most memorable performance.