Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
West Germany/Ghana, 1987. Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen, Ghana Film Industry Corporation. Screenplay by Werner Herzog, based on the novel by Bruce Chatwin. Cinematography by Viktor Ruzicka. Produced by Lucki Stipetic. Music by Popol Vuh. Production Design by Ulrich Bergfelder. Costume Design by Gisela Storch. Film Editing by Maximiliane Mainka.
Werner Herzog sends another madman to faraway corners of the world to rage at life and existence and descend into chaos, reuniting with frequent collaborator Klaus Kinski in the lead role. Kinski plays the Brazilian bandit Francisco da Silva, better known as Cobra Verde, who is hired to supervise slaves on a plantation by an owner who is unaware of his new employee’s past and reputation. After the owner’s three daughters all end up pregnant by da Silva, he is sent to a former Brazilian colony in West Africa to help re-start the slave trade that has been slowed down by Britain’s outlawing the inhuman practice. When he arrives at the fort of Almeria in Dahomey (present day Benin), he finds an abandoned, dilapidated colonial building and sets himself up for his task, teaming up with a survivor of the last slave-trading expedition to get the industry going again. His contact with the affairs of the local ruler King Bossa Ahadee (played by a real Ghanaian king) brings him into a civil war, the King’s nephew is challenging his throne and da Silva helps him raise a rebel army thanks to the nephew’s being sympathetic his economic aims. Things change between the conspirator and our anti-hero, however, and it isn’t long before he is alone in his outpost, abandoned by allies nearby or abroad. Herzog’s usual fascination with outsiders and lone wolves serves him well in this sometimes frustrating but mostly absorbing tale, in which the damage of colonialism is a stain that cannot be removed by the changing of laws or reversing of policies, as once the sickness is in, it stays there and drags everyone down equally. His pessimism for the future of humankind is balanced out by his employing beautiful images throughout the film as well as highlighting the beauty of the cultural traditions that da Silva encounters, which are presented in richly extended sequences.