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Bells From The Deep is a fabulous look at the faith and superstitions of human beings living in Russia and Siberia. Herzog quietly observes his subjects and never appears obtrusive. The camera of Jorg Schmit-Reitwen (Heart of Glass, Kaspur Hauser) captures many incredible moments as Herzog and crew move from one subject to another with grace and wonder. Herzog never questions or dissects his subjects rituals or beliefs, rather observes and embraces them for all they are. As with all of his documentaries and features, Herzog peers into the soul of the most complex and simplistic elements of the human condition to discover an often surreal and beautiful inner dynamic. Elements of this film recall themes within Heart of Glass and many of his other works. Once again, the great Werner Herzog introduces us to a world unseen. A world of warm, unique, and strangely beautiful individuals and gives them a medium in which to share their personal existences, experiences, and dreams to the world.
I had once borrowed Herzogs Rad der Zeit" (Wheel of Time"), which
contained Bells in the Deep" as a bonus. With the main film I was a
little disappointed, mainly because I wasn't very interested in the
subject. But, upon realizing that the video-store was already closed, I
pushed the DVD back into the player and figured that I might well watch
the bonus as well. Now I'm very glad that I did.
I never cared much for religions but rather was interested in the mythology behind the various forms of belief. Don't expect any deep insight from this documentary. There are no revelations or "ultimate truth" albeit the conclusions that the viewers draw themselves. Herzog was never a director who wanted to push a point on the audience but rather films what is and what he sees and leaves the rest to the viewers own devices.
Primarily Herzog gives us some astonishing, beautiful images and scenes: people crawling across a frozen lake in order to catch a glimpse of a supposedly lost city (which may or may not have been staged by Herzog, but so what?), a pair of Mongolian musicians and a particularly "harsh" baptism in the orthodox tradition (which, as I fondly remember, made my wife wince). But my personal favorite scene is a bell-player of a local church, a seemingly fragile person, who talks about having been adopted and the pain of not knowing your own origins. Once he starts to manipulate his bells with a series of strings and levers, one can only stare and listen in awe.
So why did Herzog film all this and what did he want to achieve? Personally, I believe it has to do with Herzogs own background, him being Bavarian, where the people are as arch-catholic as they get, yet where traditions are still deeply rooted in the older pagan-believes and mysticisms (as anybody, who has ever watched a "Perchtnacht", a night where villagers dress up in demonic masks, can attest). If you have visited rural Bavaria, you may also have noticed how the place is virtually littered with carved, wooden figures of Jesus, each seemingly trying to outdo the next in terms of the figure looking bloodied and battered. I've overheard tourists you considered it slightly "obscene" to have so many corpses all over the place, but perhaps it has something to do with the old Germanic god Wotan, who crucified himself on an oak in order to receive wisdom.
Having watched the documentary again with an American friend, I also found it rather amusing that he considered those Russian believes and superstitions rather outlandish, even calling "Bells in the Deep" a "freak-show". It never occurred to him to look at the many strange paths that various sects and cults in the USA had taken, be it Mormons, Baptists, reborn Christians, Creationists, etc., and traditions like handling snakes and speaking in tongues. None of this would look less outlandish than the Russian practices to an outsider.
If there is any message behind "Bells in the Deep" it is that religion doesn't shape traditions and cultures as much as traditions and cultures shape religions. If you feel the need to take a message from this documentary, that is. If not, you might as well just lean back and enjoy the marvelous images.
Bells from the Deep (1995)
*** (out of 4)
Documentary that takes a look at religious beliefs and superstitions in Siberia and Russia. When you do a documentary on religion often times you find a director who wants to throw out their opinions or thoughts on the religion in question but thankfully Herzog doesn't do that here. I'm sure some might find what we see here to be old fashioned or rather strange but Herzog treats the people and their religion with respect and just observes them without throwing in his personal thoughts. The camera beautifully moves from one subject to the next, quietly listening in to what's going on. There are many strange sequences and segments including an exorcism but Herzog just stays quiet on the matter. Herzog does the narration with that great voice of his and really tries to capture the soul and feeling of those people he's interviewing. As with many Herzog documentaries, this one here doesn't contain too much interview footage or narration but instead Herzog just shines the camera on these people and lets the viewer take away their own feelings.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Portrait of superstition and faith in Russia. Completely neutral Werner Herzog film simply shows the people as they are and lets them speak for themselves. One is a "reincarnation" of Christ speaking of love and brotherly love. Another is a man who plays the bells at a church. We see a faith healer and mystic blessing a couple. We also spend time at a village near a Russian lake. Here is its said that God saved a village from the Mongol Hordes by placing it at the bottom of a lake, where if the conditions are right you can see it through the ice when the lake freezes in the winter. Nonjudgmental to the point that anything approaching a voice over is simply the translation of the words of those we see on screen. Even the "silliness" of the people who live near the lake with their crawling around it from holy site to holy site ceases to be funny when you realize that these people actually believe in what they are telling you. It's a haunting film that makes you wonder about how and what some people believe. Highly recommended.
This has to be one of the most interesting documentaries I've seen in
recent years. Very slow paced though. If you can handle long takes of
people singing and bashing on bells, this is the movie for you. If you
take interest in Russian culture, this is the movie for you. And of
course if you are religious (specifically Christian) this is the movie
I'd say this is one of Werner Herzog underrated and overlooked works. Definitely check this one out.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Bells from the Deep" is a one-hour movie by famous German director Werner Herzog and it's really difficult for me to put this experience of a film into cold dead words. You just have to watch it. It is as spiritual as a movie could be and I totally enjoyed the watch. Occasionally, it reminded me of "Fata Morgana", another Herzog film I truly love. And even if this one here has no Leonard Cohen music, is set in an entirely different corner of the world and was made by an older Herzog (around 50), it is just as magical. There are probably not many filmmakers who can turn a bunch of people creeping on the ground into a beautiful piece of art. But the background stories, the music and just the whole atmosphere were something truly special in here. As I wrote earlier, you have to watch it yourself. If you have seen some other works of the director (admittedly this one here is not among his most famous) and have gotten to like his style, I am positive that you will enjoy this one here as much as I did. My favorite part was maybe when the old woman tells the story about her pig. It was somewhat tragic, but equally funny and just something truly special. As is this entire film. Very much recommended and Herzog's beautiful voice is a joy to listen to as always.
Sorry but as a Russian I can't perceive this seriously. With all my
respect to Herzog it's NOT a true depiction of Russian faith and
superstitions but rather a Borat-like comedy disguised as a highly
objective and free from personal opinions documentary report.
If this movie has made you think that people like notorious exorcist Wisard Vasilyev, self-declared messiah Vissarion etc. are of any importance for the general Russian public then, well, you ought to consider imaginary movie called e.g. "Faith and superstitions in US" shot with a camera which thoughtfully dwells on ceremonies by Rev. Sun Myung Moon and Charles Manson.
Extremely tendentious and pretentious "Bells from Deep" can't be recommended to anybody except Russians: in their eyes it definitely deserves 10/10 for campiness (and BTW poses a question about relevance of other Herzog's ethnographic movies).
For a documentary subtitled 'Faith and Superstition in Russia', this early 90's effort by acclaimed German director Werner Herzog sure provides absolutely nothing in the way of insight. It lacks coherence and focus simply because it's uncertain of what point it's trying to make. If there is any. Herzog's camera follows a self-appointed Jesus as he goes around preaching the word to chubby superstitious babuskas, a 'sorceror/ exorcist' performing on a group of women, a man responsible for tolling the bells of a church and so on so forth in a random assortment of superstitious peasants and religious weirdos, the kind of which you have no small chance of encountering in ANY rural area, from Tenessee to the Amazon. What it doesn't have is a premise to fulfill, a conclusion to arrive at. Is there anything to this snapshot of weird religious behaviour that is not self-explanatory? As a travelogue of rural Russia and the selectively weird people that may inhabit it, it is okay. As a documentary about 'Faith and Superstition in Russia', Bells from the Deep has little insight to shed on the matter. In fact, you could save yourself the 60 minutes and just read the title, because Herzog has little more to say.
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