I believe that Queen of The Desert is greater than the sum of its parts, and that its parts are inspired to begin with. So many things about this film are beyond beautiful, they are sublime. I watched it twice. I don't know if Werner Herzog wanted to make a Hollywood-style period romance, and it doesn't matter to me whether anyone else thinks he achieved creating one or not.
The film isn't about a romance, it's about romance, period. Specifically, the romance that can find itself at the center of someone's life. Herzog told a story in which Bell had multiple romantic relationships that weren't just with people. In this way he gave her character a deep spiritual life. She had a fling with poetry and writing, an affair with the desert, passion for traveling, true love with multiple men, and loving friendships. In addition, every main character is shown to be loving in some way. I like TE Lawrence's character (played delightfully by Robert Pattinson) because he tries like mad to avoid romance, but also seems to be feigning his aversion.
In QOTD, many characters risk their lives for love, and some do give their lives. It isn't just one or two main characters, and it isn't just for the love of another person.
Near the end of QOTD, a bedouin leader asks Bell why she loves them (Arabs) so much. By her answer, which is a tribute to her trusted guide Fattuh, we understand what she's all about, and what this film is all about. It's beautifully written dialogue by Herzog.
One of my very favourite things about this film was the number of times Kidman was shown laughing. There is hardly a character in the film with whom she isn't seen sharing a good laugh. The film isn't funny, and Bell wasn't meant to be comedic. And yet there is this frequent laughter. That's joy. There's joy in this film. This is what has made Queen of The Desert one of my favourite movies of all time.
I enjoyed the "dreaminess" of the film. In no way was it psychedelic or self-referential (done for effect). It was written into Gertrude Bell's character. This was a wonderful artistic choice.
Random things I loved: The references to poetry and literature. The loud camels nearly ruining the grand orchestral score. The steampunk-ish pistols in the case. James Franco flirting like only James Franco can. The snow in the desert! No subtitles. And most of all, the use of a good number of truly great actors from around the world who are of Arab descent.
Some favourite moments: the close-up on Bell when she and Cadogan hold hands for the first time. When Doughty-Wylie kisses her for the first time and her reaction is shown at length (such complex acting from Kidman and Lewis here, especially Kidman). The hand-held camera at the desert camp. The pain of the young Arab messenger as he confesses to Bell, "I would give anything for a woman like you," knowing he would never see her again but for that moment. The Shiek of the Druze talking Virgil.
Anytime a filmmaker is both writer and director, like Herzog is here, there will be a divergence from the tropes of the genre in which his film may be expected to fit. Hopefully the audience will buy in to his vision. I did wholeheartedly.
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