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Fata Morgana (1971)

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Footage shot in and around the Sahara Desert, accompanied only by a spoken creation myth and the songs of Leonard Cohen.



(original screenplay)
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Credited cast:
Lotte Eisner ...
Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Eugen Des Montagnes
James William Gledhill
Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg


Footage shot in and around the Sahara Desert, accompanied only by a spoken creation myth and the songs of Leonard Cohen.

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Not Rated | See all certifications »




Release Date:

1 February 1972 (West Germany)  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Werner Herzog and his crew went to the African country of Cameroon a few weeks after a coup attempt took place to shoot the film. The police arrested the director after misidentifying a crew member as a wanted criminal. He and several crew members were beaten and thrown into a cell. Herzog contracted bilharzia, a blood parasite. See more »


Featured in Die Nacht der Regisseure (1995) See more »


Written and Performed by Leonard Cohen
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User Reviews

still the most experimental film Herzog ever made; pretentious nonsense or close to slowly riveting poetry, you be the judge
5 June 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

It would be something to try and tell someone what Fata Morgana is very simply about. Or, maybe it isn't: Herzog goes to the Sahara desert and nearby villages to film assorted landscapes and the locals. But this is just the broadest stroke. It's a feat that you either surrender yourself to, or you don't. He gets into the form of the world around him entirely, without a story, bound only to certain aspects of written poetry, as his camera (shooting on supposedly discarded film stock) wanders like in a pure travelogue. One might even jump to that easy conclusion, as he puts up these immense landscapes, then moving to more rough civilized culture (though not the actual 'normal' culture itself), and to a point levels too abstract to be able to convey properly here. Sometimes it takes a while to get along, close to a purity through the "creation" section, but a purity in how parts are manipulated either by nature or by broken-down machines. Soon the narration, readings from the Popol Vuh (who, by the way, does the music for most of his films), with the gradual procession of actually highly stylized shots adds a whole different level to it. It's a hybrid film, and it's not easy, but the rewards are what best comes closest to Herzog's idea of "ecstatic truth", images he's been out for his whole career.

One wonders if the images end up, by the time the second section, Paradise, leading along the words spoken, or if it's the other way around. You're eyes are moving along with the stills and pans, and the wording is close to being religious writing, but there's also the music choices, how the bizarrely spare singing and low-key classical music goes together with Leonard Cohen and Blind Faith. I think each side ends up complimenting the other, and it's something that still *seems* like it shouldn't work. Perhaps that's the draw to it, the chances taken in going through desolate wastelands and the smallest run sections of any kind of civilized life (in this case the shacks of the desert), that make it so fascinating. If only for the cinematographic sense it's a marvel, too indescribable for the casual photography fan because of molds of technique, and some of the strangest images of any Herzog film. There's pans, there's long-shots, there's hand-held while driving by the towns, there's a bus dozens of miles away that via mirage seems only a couple, there's full-on close-ups of fire and a man holding a reptile and talking about its radar (truly classic gonzo comedy), there's people holding still in fake poses, and a man and woman playing inane music. But, most importantly, it ends up feeling, at least for me, natural for the personal nature of the approach.

I'm sure only Herzog would know for certain why he made this film, as opposed to the simple 'how'; he was already filming Even Dwarfs Started Small, and he ended up going through many perils to finish it. Yet this is what makes Fata Morgana such an amazing feat- it will appeal to one depending on what someone brings to it in actually watching it. It's definitely unsettling, but there's the temptation to want to see it again very soon after, just to experience all of the ideas and realities turned abstracted strange vibes (yes, the word 'vibes' applies here). It's one of the truly spectacular "art-films" ever made.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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