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La Soufrière (1977)

La Soufrière - Warten auf eine unausweichliche Katastrophe (original title)
Herzog takes a film crew to the island of Guadeloupe when he hears that the volcano on the island is going to erupt. Everyone has left, except for one old man who refuses to leave. Herzog ... See full summary »


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Herzog takes a film crew to the island of Guadeloupe when he hears that the volcano on the island is going to erupt. Everyone has left, except for one old man who refuses to leave. Herzog catches the eeriness of an abandoned city, with stop lights cycling over an empty intersection. Written by Mike Konczewski

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3 December 2014 (France)  »

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La soufrière  »

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Did You Know?


Narrator: It will always remains a mystery why there was no eruption. Never before in the history of vulcanology when signals of such magnitude measures and yet nothing happened.
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Siegfried's Funeral Music (from The Ring of the Nibelung)
Composed by Richard Wagner.
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ironic but also very sincere about its subject at hand, it's Herzog being duped by his own daring, but still with lots to show for it
2 June 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

La Soufriere is with the appendage-title "Waiting for the Inevitable Catastrophe", and it's crucial that the word 'waiting' is in there. I'd imagine much of the film would be the same if the volcano had erupted, albeit at the risk of Herzog and his two cameramen's lives. But what remains of what didn't happen, of the volcano's eruption, holds its own fascination for Herzog, wherein seeing the sights of the mountain, of the smoke rising and every present around the area of the Guadaloupe island, and showing the history of a nearby volcano and a sudden appearance of the hanger-ons to the island at the time, is just as fulfilling as if it actually happened, if not more-so in a perverse way. Herzog is taken for granted as being a filmmaker who looks for people with obsessions, of the dangers of nature and livelihood, of the madness that environment brings out, but unlike a film like Lessons of Darkness or Wild Blue Yonder Herzog isn't able here to manipulate- as far as how it might fit a different context in his unique form of "non-fiction" film-making, La Soufriere is a bit more objective, to a degree he allows at any rate.

It's this collision of Herzog's own subjective fascination and fear of the volcano, and the simple 'here's what's happening' facts of the deserted village, that makes La Sofriere a work that almost comments on Herzog's own obsessions as a filmmaker, though not quite. It would work totally for someone who's never seen a Herzog film, I think, as in essence its the telling of a basic story where nature is on the verge of chaos, which is not something that is hard to find on a National Geographic special (although they, most likely, would have the volcano exploding at the end). But for fans, or just those who know the director's methods with his real-life subjects, one sees him perhaps going too far, which is part of the fun: at one point he bypasses the government-set road blocks and then is out of the car in a panic as the volcano rumbles, waving the car to get out of the shot as he has a truly petrified look on his face. And the shots of the mountainside itself are vintage Herzog, maybe a given due to the subject matter, set to somber classical music and more contemplative than anything on the nature of, well, nature.

The latter of this extends to the interviews with the people who've decided to stay on the island even if it means certain death. The subjects, maybe to a more clear and personally accepting reason, don't mind, and are not afraid of death (the poor one, who has nothing and can't even get off the island anyway, is fine with it as it is "God's will"). Herzog tends to stick with these guys for a good chunk of the film, which leads to a little distracting side-note with one of the villagers singing(?), but it's a captivating chunk all the same as we see men who are possibly as crazy as Herzog, though with many more years of experience (and other natural weather disasters like typhoons) that they've lived through anyway. Herzog mentions that the social situation, of the disenfranchised left on the island, are what he still thinks about after the threat has ended and things go back to normal and the volcano is forgotten. But I wonder if he might think about himself in what is supposed to be inevitable chaos, and how the alleviation of it only leads him to seek other ventures (ala the making of Fitzcarraldo) that spell just as much peril, if not more on his own psychological state.

It's a stark statement that is mostly underlying in the film, and aside from that aspect La Soufriere is a worthwhile story to tell about the nature of a society near a volcano (i.e. the town on the Martinique island in 1902), and what it looks like no-holds-barred.

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