On Crete, a wounded German paratrooper named Stroszek is sent to the quiet city of Kos with his wife Nora, a Greek nurse, and two other soldiers recovering from minor wounds. Billeted in a ... See full summary »
On Crete, a wounded German paratrooper named Stroszek is sent to the quiet city of Kos with his wife Nora, a Greek nurse, and two other soldiers recovering from minor wounds. Billeted in a decaying fortress, they guard a munitions depot. There's little to do: Becker, a classicist, translates inscriptions on ancient tablets found in the fortress, Meinhart devises traps for cockroaches, Nora helps Stroszek make fireworks using gunpowder from grenades in the depot. Slowly, in the heat and torpor, Stroszek goes mad, drives the others from the fortress, and threatens the city with blowing up the depot. With care, the German command must figure out how to get him down. Written by
The screenplay is based on a story by (Ludwig) Achim von Arnim, which he wrote in 1818 and is called "Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau" (The Mad Invalid at Fort Rattoneau). Until 1997 it was the only story written by Arnim that was previously translated into English. See more »
Now that I can talk, what shall I say?
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Herzog's impressive debut about isolation and madness
Werner Herzog's debut feature tells the story of a wounded German paratrooper Stroszek (Peter Brogle) who is transported to the Greek island of Kos to recover physically and mentally. Already there are fellow soldiers Meinhard (Wolfgang Reichmann) and Becker (Wolfgang Von Ungern-Sterngberg), who are taking life easy in the sun with little to nothing to do. Stroszek sets them to work, but soon, as the work begins to dry up, he becomes more and more unstable in the isolation and loneliness.
Nobody really knows what goes through Herzog's head, but it is clear he is a film-making genius and has one of the finest eyes for visuals in cinema. Signs of Life explores themes that Herzog would later become engrossed and almost obsessed with - isolation, obsession and madness. While he would later employ Klaus Kinski as the face of wide-eyed insanity, here the tone is quiet, contemplative and often very funny. The opening half of the film concentrates mainly on the three soldiers trying to find things to do. Meinhard becomes frustrated with the presence of cockroaches in their apartment and builds a trap to catch them. The feeling of being trapped appears throughout the film, usually using animals - the soldiers are given a strange toy that seems to move on its own, until they open it and find out that it's full of trapped flies; and we are shown how a hen is hypnotised.
But the comedy is soon put aside as Stroszek begins his descent into madness, holding himself up in the 14th century fortress where the soldiers are stationed with a horde of ammunition. It's in the second half that Herzog shows us the images he can conjure. It's breathtaking what he achieves with a stolen 35mm camera and a micro-budget. Amongst other things, we see a seemingly endless field of windmills, and fireworks set off into the night sky. The grainy black-and-white imagery gives the whole thing a fresh beauty. This is far from the greatest debut in cinema, but a very clear indication of a director's raw skill, and of course, Herzog would go on to make many fine films.
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