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Fata Morgana (1971)

Not Rated  |   |  Documentary  |  1 February 1972 (West Germany)
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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)  »

Also Known As:

Фата Моргана  »

Filming Locations:


Company Credits

Show detailed on  »

Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
See  »

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 »


Sweet Potato
Written by Booker T. Jones
Performed by John Renbourn
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User Reviews

No Slight of Hand
1 May 2008 | by (Sydney, Australia) – See all my reviews

Inarguably one of the most interesting filmmakers of the last 50 years, Werner Herzog has been pushing the boundaries of cinema perhaps more so than any other commercial filmmaker. I've been acquainted with Herzog for a few decades now and I've never not been impressed by both the man and his work. Last year I went to see Rescue Dawn and was somewhat surprised at how relatively mainstream the film was, yet couldn't help but imagine Herzog taking his actors and crew into the actual jungle to not only make the film, but to live it. No other filmmaker is as crazed about the purity of the film-making process and the subsequent lore from such productions as Fitzcarraldo has been forged into cinematic legend.

Today I sat down to Fata Morgana, a 1969 Herzog film that could be described as an allegorical filmic postcard. Without researching the actual locations, I'm assuming it was shot somewhere in Africa, both coastal and desert, a region that could have once been the cradle of infant man, infant civilization, infant life on earth. It is these origins, the biblical notion of the Garden of Eden and the Apocalypse that Herzog is concerned with, as is voiced by the narration dispensed throughout the 79 minute run time.

Watching FM I couldn't help but feel I was a passenger on a profound journey. In the opening sequence, the title is translated as "Mirage" and Herzog juxtaposes this translation with multiple repetitions of commercial jets landing on an airstrip. These images are perverted, their 3-dimensionality crushed flat by a long lens, piling layers of exhaust, heat waves and light aberrations all on top of one another. The effect left me to conclude: things are not as they seem.

FM is divided into 3 very distinct chapters: 1) Creation, 2) Paradise and 3) The Golden Age. Chapter One, opens with countless, languid images, where bleak, barren landscapes scroll by, dead animals rot, broken shells of crashed airplanes and abandoned cars slowly disintegrate in the desert sun. The people populating this inhospitable landscape are ragged, unsmiling and apparent prisoners of the desert. The narration talks of a time before life, a time where the canvas of earth was blank and all that existed were the heavens. While the narration hearkens to a simpler, purer era, a portrait of a young boy holding a fox-like animal by its throat evokes a chilling depiction of man's cruel, ruthless attempt to enforce a dominion over nature.

In the next chapter we are introduced to more of the same, yet the images and people are more animated and seem infused with a modicum of life and vitality. We listen to a goggled biologist talk about the difficultly a monitor lizard has hunting for prey in such a lifeless environment. As he holds the squirming monitor, its tongue flicking at flies, he also describes how difficult it to capture these creatures in the searing 140 degree heat. The parallel is duly noted and Herzog continues to explore this concept through repeated, candid portraits of individuals battered by the sun, the desert and the laborious efforts required to exist in this harsh realm. He also pushes forward the theme that if not in control, man asserts his control over his environment and not always in the most pleasant of ways.

The last chapter takes us out of the desert's blast furnace and into the more familiar Herzog territory populated by eccentrics and absurd behavior. No one seems to have a more effective symbiotic relationship with the oddballs of the world than Herzog -- possibly this is where he feels most at home. Much like Errol Morris, Herzog chooses to place his camera in as seemingly objective a position as he can before he lets the film roll. The subsequent flirtation Herzog has with his subject is the result of him being able to continue shooting well beyond the point when most directors would have yelled cut. As Morris does, this extended roll pushes past the "on" moment the subjects feel obliged to offer and through their discomfort of being pushed into overtime, their facade gives way to something real. The most humorous portrait in this chapter is of the 2 person band playing an odd, polka-like song that Herzog recycles throughout this chapter. The drummer of the band wears the same goggles as the biologist, as does another guy doing a magic trick, begging the question: what's with the goggles? They definitely add some levity to the film, but one has to wonder if they hold any deeper meaning or significance, or is this just another example of Herzog's playfullness.

The narration aside, Herzog utilizes folk and blues music as the experimental documentary's soundtrack. Leonard Cohen grabs the most screen time, two of his beautifully melancholic songs "So Long Marianne" and "Suzanne." perfectly accompany the scrolling landscapes, adding to the convincing feel that we are truly along for the ride. By the end of the journey, Herzog comes back to one of the many shots that recur throughout the film: the distant framing of a lone vehicle traversing the endless desert engulfed by a water mirage that fills the horizon. Despite the overall bleakness of FM, the crescendo of the film and the mirage motif leave you with a hopeful spirit, belief that against all odds, life will persevere and possibly even flourish.

Having finished writing this post, I referenced FM to discover that Herzog shot it in Saharan Cameroon only weeks after a bloody coup. True to his legend, Herzog and his crew were arrested, beaten and imprisoned. While imprisoned, Herzog fell ill with Schistosomiasis, a blood parasite. It's truly hard not to love such a hypnotic and austere film as Fata Morgana; knowing the filmmaker was willing to die to get it made only makes you respect it all the more.

7 of 7 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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