Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5.
West Germany/Peru/South Africa, 1982. Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Pro-ject Filmproduktion, Filmverlag der Autoren, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Wildlife Films Peru. Screenplay by Werner Herzog. Cinematography by Thomas Mauch. Produced by Werner Herzog, Willi Segler, Lucki Stipetic. Music by Popol Vuh. Production Design by Ulrich Bergfelder, Henning von Gierke. Costume Design by Gisela Storch. Film Editing by Beate Mainka-Jellinghaus.
Werner Herzog’s mad film about a passionate man’s mad dream of bringing opera to the Amazon jungle is probably better in description and, possibly, more enjoyable in the superb Les Blank documentary Burden of Dreams. It’s a fascinating and unique story based on the true tale of a failed nineteenth century businessman who takes in a performance of Enrico Caruso and falls madly in love with the entertainment, believing it essential that an opera house be built in Iquitos, Peru where he lives. To raise the money needed to achieve his goal, he gets into the rubber business, convincing his brothel madam friend (played by a luminous Claudia Cardinale) to fund the purchase of a boat that he will take to a remote parcel of land that has been assigned to him by the colonial government. Getting there is a challenge given that the path of the river will take him through hostile native territory, so Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) decides to stop his journey at a point where two rivers practically meet and drag the boat over a muddy mountain to get it to the other side. Herzog’s love of curious individuals has rarely found a better subject, a man whose vision is as unexpected as its outcome, and the filmmaker allows the experience to play out with such quiet, almost reverential detail that belies the insanity that Blank’s film revealed was ongoing behind the scenes. The shots of endless jungle inhabited by stoic, communally generous natives is hilariously broken up by the sight of Kinski’s immense eyes and ferocious mouth, while the texture of many of its images, made well before computer graphic technology would have made them so much safer to accomplish, is awe-inspiring. All that said, it’s really long and not all those who dare to watch it will make it to the end.
Cannes Film Festival Award: Best Director (Werner Herzog)
Golden Globe Award Nomination: Best Foreign Film