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A few decades after the destruction of the Inca empire, a Spanish expedition leaves the mountains of Peru and goes down the Amazon river in search of gold and wealth. Soon, they come across great difficulties and Don Aguirres, a ruthless man who cares only about riches, becomes their leader. But will his quest lead them to "the golden city", or to certain destruction? Written by
Chris Makrozahopoulos <email@example.com>
Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski's masterful achievement - Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) is a rich and powerful film set deep in the the South American rain forest. Ostensibly a piece of historical fiction based on fragmentary evidence concerning one of the many ill-fated attempts to find and conquer the mythic El Dorado (a city of gold rumored to be anywhere from southern Canada to Patagonia), Aguirre operates on so many levels and reflects so many aspects of its story that it is difficult to convey precisely what the film is really about. It is too fictionalized (yet plausible) to fit comfortably in the "historical fiction" shoebox; the dialog is as much a presentistic bit of reflexive thinking as it is fitting for the historical context of the film; and the setting is so breathtaking that without a plot and without the brilliant concept and fantastic acting, the film would still be breathtaking and painful.
The opening scene, which very slowly depicts a caravan of Spanish soldiers, African and South American Indian slaves, burros, horses, cannons, and provisions making their way down a steep mountain path surrounded by miles of rain forest, is breathtaking and ominous, and sets not just the tone, but the pace of the film. Many people will find the pace a little too slow to handle. After a few minutes of struggle, the nobleman leader of the expedition throws in, and appoints a small number of participants to go forward into the jungle. Of these, only Lope Del Aguirre, a career soldier with vast ruthless ambition, and Ursua, a more gentle nobleman, are really leadership material. As the party floats down-river on rafts, it rapidly becomes clear by whose will the party continues on, and who will emerge as its sole leader in the end.
Herzog develops some of his usual themes in this film, and does so with poignancy and cinematography nothing short of beauty. The film is about power, madness, religion, oppression, nature, and culture, but certainly does not stop there. This is film as high art. Brilliantly executed, multi-faceted, moving, and as ambiguous as real life so often is.
This is also one of the great actor Klaus Kinski's most profound and appealing roles. Though Kinski was later typecast in mad, or at least eccentric, roles, as Aguirre he is able to show his range very effectively - because the character varies from a cold, brooding, Machiavellian rationalism to an obsessive sociopathic suicidalism. The rest of the cast rises to the challenge and acts right at Kinski's level, making this film one of the best actors/production team collaborations I have ever seen.
This film is definitely not for everybody, it is a long, slow sip of delicious and yet bitter wine which the typical movie-goer will only appreciate when 'in the mood' for something which requires thought and energy to watch. It is also one of my favorite films of all time.
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