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Herdsmen of the Sun (1989)

Wodaabe - Die Hirten der Sonne. Nomaden am Südrand der Sahara (original title)
Herzog's documentary of the Wodaabe people of the Sahara/Sahel region. Particular attention is given to the tribe's spectacular courtship rituals and 'beauty pageants', where eligible young... See full summary »

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Herzog's documentary of the Wodaabe people of the Sahara/Sahel region. Particular attention is given to the tribe's spectacular courtship rituals and 'beauty pageants', where eligible young men strive to outshine each other and attract mates by means of lavish makeup, posturing and facial movements. Written by Dawn M. Barclift

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12 June 1989 (West Germany)  »

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Herdsmen of the Sun  »

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1.33 : 1
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Herzog as a nature documentarian- the nature of the 'prison' of the Woodabe tribe
3 November 2007 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Herdsmen of the Sun is one of Werner Herzog's more under-seen documentary featurettes, which like Lessons of Darkness is shorter than an hour, probably with enough time for a few commercials if need be (both were shot for, or at least meant for, television broadcast on German networks). But it casts a light on a society of outcasts, and through Herzog's unblinking observations on them gets out what is something of a consistency in his catalog of work: the theme of outcasts who've created an insulated world for themselves, thanks (or rather no thanks) to factors of their infrastructure and how they communicate. It probably has some company to share alongside the likes of Even Dwarfs Started Small, or even Stroszek. If this one is any different it's because there's more of an issue with nature itself- because of a long-standing drought, many were put in a position of having to fend for the lowest common denominator (there's the insinuation many died in the interim, or those who couldn't sell their herds in time).

If Herdsmen of the Sun stands out in as a Herzog film it's because it showcases the director as anthropologist. His narration details the mating habits as if these were any other species of animal: the ritualistic nature of preparations with make-up of the men and the contortions of the facial expressions (even more fascinating is to hear how they stand seven feet tall, no tippy-toes). Although one might expect the main difference between Herdsmen of the Sun and any given National Geographic TV doc is that the people on camera look right at it, Herzog uses this to an effect that's rather challenging, and even stirring to the mind. Like in Fata Morgana- the opening shot here also a mirage- it's about the faces themselves, expression, and how one looks and has a personality even more-so through having to put on a sort of act for a strange thing like a camera. Equally good are the candid moments when one sees Woodabe talking just like any other guy or woman at a bar, about their latest sexual conquests or crushes.

It's actually sort of charming, in Herzog's skewed, sad viewpoint, as is a lot of the film under moments of recognition of the estrangement of the other under somber opera music.


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