Lacking a traditional narrative or dramatic structure and full of obscure images, this film feels more like a hypnotic dreamlike experience. It also features one the more enduring trends in Herzog's work: the featuring of individuals with exceptional physical or psychological conditions.
The film is based on the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a young man who suddenly appears on the market square in the German town of Nuremberg in 1828. This strange occurrence has become one of the most enduring inspirations in German history, literature and science, with well over a thousand books written on the case. When Kaspar Hauser was found, he could barely grunt, let alone speak and caused a minor sensation among the locals. After living in a cellar for years with only a pet rocking horse, he is abandoned by his protector and provider, the mysterious "Man in Black." Having been isolated from all humans except his mysterious protector, Kaspar is suddenly thrust into civilization, and is expected to adapt himself to 19th-century society. He becomes a public spectacle and everyone in town lines up to catch a glimpse of him. Soon the local officials in town decide he is too much of a (costly) burden and, in an attempt to profit from the public interest, he is turned over to a circus ringmaster, where he is added to the local carnival freak show, as one of "The Four Riddles of the Spheres." The other three include "a midget king", "A little Mozart" (an autistic or catatonic child), and a lute playing "savage". When Hauser comes under the tutelage of a sympathetic professor (Walter Ladengast), he gradually acquires an impressive degree of socialization and learns to express himself with a reasonable degree of clarity, but most of society's conventions, manners and thoughts is more the young man is able to adjust to.
Herzog adopted a technique of incorporating film material shot by others filmmakers into the film. Early on in the film, just before Kaspar is found on the town square, Herzog used material shot on super 8 of a Bavarian landscape and the town of Dinkelsbühl, that was almost disposed off, but Herzog thought it would be ideal for his film. These grainy shots, accompanied by a requiem of Orlando DiLasso, make for one of the most haunting images I've ever seen on film. Dream sequences are another important aspect in this film. In one of them, Kaspar Hauser has dream images of the Sahara desert, for which Herzog used material he shot in the Western Sahara on earlier occasions. I don't know of any other director who used this technique to such avail up until now. One of the most stunning scenes is when the "Man in black" leaves him with the shot on the mountain and soon after the music with the requiem starts. It's almost like a romantic twist on 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Herzog has done a fantastic job recounting the legend of Kaspar Hauser to the screen. The casting of Bruno S. in the role of Kaspar Hauser is of particular interest. He was a street artist in Berlin, when Herzog found him and decided he would be ideal to play the role of Kaspar Hauser. Before this, Bruno S. had a troubled past. After being severely beaten by his mother, he became deaf and was placed in an institution for retarded children at the age of three. At nine, when he tried to escape, he was transferred to a correctional institution. With further escape attempts, he amassed a number of criminal offenses and was incarcerated for more than twenty years. The authenticity of Bruno's performance brings such an element of sincerity to the film, that makes it almost impossible not to root for his cause. Bruno S. also starred in Herzog's STROSZEK (1976).
Camera Obscura --- 10/10