Signs of Life (1968)
"Lebenszeichen" (original title)

 |  Drama  |  December 1981 (USA)
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A wounded German paratrooper named Stroszek is sent to the quiet island of Kos with his wife Nora, a Greek nurse, and two other soldiers recovering from minor wounds. Billeted in a decaying... See full summary »



(screenplay), (inspired by the short story 'Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau')
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2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Peter Brogle ...
Wolfgang Reichmann ...
Athina Zacharopoulou ...
Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg ...
Wolfgang Stumpf ...
Henry van Lyck ...
Julio Pinheiro ...
Florian Fricke ...
Heinz Usener ...
Achmed Hafiz ...
Greek resident
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jannakis Frasakis
Eleni Katerinaki


A wounded German paratrooper named Stroszek is sent to the quiet island 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 <>

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Release Date:

December 1981 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Signs of Life  »

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DEM 25,000 (estimated)

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1.37 : 1
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Werner Herzog's first feature film. See more »


Young Child: Now that I can talk, what shall I say?
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User Reviews

gritty, meandering, a beautiful and harrowing start to a career
14 December 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Werner Herzog's first film is a view into the mindset of the soldier who goes over the brink, but unlike many films that might explore the concept, or even Herzog's own later, arguably greater, Woyzeck, Signs of Life is about a man engulfed by the location. The setting is interesting right away; a stone fortress that men who have been wounded or just put on leave are guarding on a remote Greek island during WW2 (of course, we're never told this, which is appropriate, one can take a guess as to the significance of Herzog's POV as part of the New German cinema), and aside from the cockroaches and painting doors, there's not much to do. The mundane becomes engulfing, even as there's little things to do on the island. It's always bubbling under the surface, and as the days pass and things start to grow more aimless, Stroszek (Peter Brogle, with the kind of eyes and demeanor Kubrick would've loved to film) distances himself, sets of fireworks in his hands, and snaps one day out on patrol.

If anyone knows Herzog, the tale of a man going "berserk", as one officer says in this film of the main character, this shouldn't be seen out of the ordinary. Herzog has always tried to explore not so much of the precise 'whys' of the snap, or the break under pressure, or society's role or those around in personal quarters. Of course it's suggested a lot of the time, but in the case of Signs of Life we see much of the insanity in very long shots, with Stroszek going mad in the last twenty minutes on top of the fortress, wavering around, surrounded still by the immense landscape - an "inner" landscape, mayhap, as Herzog describes so often of his perspective on landscapes - of the fortress set against the background of the sea and mountains. But if one were seeing this as the first feature of some 26 year old Bavarian who only made a few shorts (one of which was similar somewhat to Signs of Life), this would seem like the most unclassifiable "genre" film ever made.

It's a movie about soldiers who don't fight, and with images like cut aways to peasants running and rummaging in the streets, a bird, a bunch of statues, stone tablets. And then when Stroszek does snap, we don't hear any audio, just the intense plucking of the guitar by the Greek composer, as Herzog pans over a whole field of windmills. And where else would one ever see something like when the bald soldier is setting up the trap for the roaches? Or the segway with the guy who thinks that he's a King? The first half of the movie is unsettling because it doesn't seem like it's going anywhere, and yet I kept on wanting to stay with Herzog (not even because I knew where it was going); there's something underneath all of the ho-hum "non" drama that goes on, little bits of behavior in the lackadaisical, that when finally things pick up dramatically it starts slowly, then builds, goes to a peak, and then...

Well, you'll just have to see for yourself. All I know is that you're likely not to see another film like Signs of Life- much less a debut from a major European film artist- where the climax entails fireworks going off while practical martial law is placed over the island. Herzog doesn't follow any rules, and it can get frustrating here and there. But it's also exhilarating, and I would probably count it in my top 10 favorites of the director.

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