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Signs of Life (1968)

Lebenszeichen (original title)
A wounded German paratrooper named Stroszek is sent to the quiet island of Kos with his wife Nora, a Greek nurse, and two other soldiers recovering from minor wounds. Billeted in a decaying... See full summary »


Werner Herzog


Werner Herzog (screenplay), Achim von Arnim (inspired by the short story 'Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau')
2 wins & 2 nominations. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Peter Brogle ... Stroszek
Wolfgang Reichmann ... Meinhard
Athina Zacharopoulou Athina Zacharopoulou ... Nora
Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg ... Becker
Wolfgang Stumpf ... Captain
Henry van Lyck ... Lieutenant
Julio Pinheiro ... Gypsy
Florian Fricke Florian Fricke ... Pianist
Heinz Usener Heinz Usener ... Doctor
Achmed Hafiz Achmed Hafiz ... Greek resident
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Jannakis Frasakis Jannakis Frasakis
Eleni Katerinaki Eleni Katerinaki


A wounded German paratrooper named Stroszek is sent to the quiet island of Kos with his wife Nora, a Greek nurse, and two other soldiers recovering from minor wounds. Billeted in a decaying fortress, they guard a munitions depot. There's little to do: Becker, a classicist, translates inscriptions on ancient tablets found in the fortress, Meinhart devises traps for cockroaches, Nora helps Stroszek make fireworks using gunpowder from grenades in the depot. Slowly, in the heat and torpor, Stroszek goes mad, drives the others from the fortress, and threatens the city with blowing up the depot. With care, the German command must figure out how to get him down. Written by <jhailey@hotmail.com>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis




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West Germany


German | Greek

Release Date:

9 December 1981 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

Signs of Life See more »

Filming Locations:

Kos, Greece See more »


Box Office


DEM 25,000 (estimated)
See more on IMDbPro »

Company Credits

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Technical Specs

Sound Mix:


Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


The screenplay is based on a story by (Ludwig) Achim von Arnim, which he wrote in 1818 and is called "Der tolle Invalide auf dem Fort Ratonneau" (The Mad Invalid at Fort Rattoneau). Until 1997 it was the only story written by Arnim that was previously translated into English. See more »


Young Child: Now that I can talk, what shall I say?
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User Reviews

Herzog's Dialogue with Humanity Began Here
26 March 2009 | by mstomasoSee all my reviews

Acknowledged as the film that inspired Stephen King's novel, The Shining, Signs of Life is a film which touches upon the rationality of insanity in a world gone mad. Set during the German occupation of Crete during World War II, the story centers around a German paratrooper (Stroszek played by Peter Brogle) who was injured during his first mission and sent to oversee an old fort in the uneventful city of Kos. Accompanied by his young Greek wife Nora (Athina Zacharopoulou), and two other German soldiers who do not fit well within the German military model (Wolfgang Reichmann as Meinhard and Wolfgang von Ungern-Sternberg as Becker), Stroszek is plagued by boredom and his own apparent uselessness. However, his young wife dutifully occupies her time learning German and taking care of domestic duties for the three men, Meinhard uses his engineering and creative skills to devise, among other things, a cockroach trap, and Becker studies Greek classical inscriptions and architecture, with which the fort is replete. Stroszek's only escape for the boredom of life at the fort is making Roman candles with Nora.

Typical for Herzog, Signs of Life portrays this boredom very effectively through content, pace and script, but without consigning its audience to the same fate. As with the equally excellent Heart of Glass, the passage of time seems at once extenuated and ambiguous in Signs of Life.

Stroszek becomes edgy, obsessive and unpredictable. Eventually he complains to his superiors that he has nothing to do and he is placed on a countryside patrol which is just as useless as sitting around at the fort. Surveying a beautiful countryside densely populated with a sea of windmills from a high vantage point, Stroszek finally snaps. He chases his wife and fellow soldiers out of the fort with a shotgun (though he clearly does not want to kill any of them) and begins an ominous stand-off with the occupation forces.

Herzog's frequent themes are mostly present in Signs of Life and are remarkably mature in this first major work of the master director. Stroszek is a familiar Herzog character - a man at war with society, reality and, ultimately, himself. Although it is fairly easy to write him off as a lunatic, Stroszek's part is written and acted well enough to permit a great deal of empathy. In later films dealing with similar characters and plots (i.e. Aguire: Wrath of God and Grizzly Man, etc) Herzog would take on less sympathetic crazies and examine them just as sensitively and even more powerfully. As in many of the great director's films, Herzog's anti-hero protagonist is as much a malignant product of social circumstance as a mirror of the insane implications of their own social context taken to extremes.

In Signs of Life, this is accomplished by an amazingly subtle treatment of the insanity of the German role in World War II and Stroszek's context as both a soldier and collateral casualty of that context. Subtle - because neither of these issues are examined at any point in the film, but rather - they permeate the entire film and provide the canvass for the story Herzog paints.

Herzog wrote and directed the film at the age of 25, with a paltry budget and a hand-held 35mm camera, setting sail on what has, so far, been one of the most interesting and productive career voyages in film. As usual, the sets are perfectly chosen and along with the cinematography, make the film a visual masterpiece. The script and acting are also exceptional, and though Signs of Life requires a good attention span, it does not fail to engage and entertain at many levels simultaneously.

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