peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2023 10 31 Fitzcarraldo

Fitzcarraldo (1982)

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Werner Herzog’s masterpiece. A bit like a David Lean epic (a vast cast of extras, an exotic location, quixotic characters, an impossible quest) unburdened by historicity. Something of a do-over of Aguirre, The Wrath of God. Herzog followed it with Where the Green Ants Dream. Strangely also a Miguel Ángel Fuentes jag from The Mexican.

The plot has Klaus Kinski wanting to build an opera house in (I think) Iquitos, Peru, but of course things are not that simple. After failing to build a trans-Andean railway and finding that the ice-making business doesn't pay, he prevails upon his main squeeze Claudia Cardinale, madam to the town's upper class, to buy him a boat so he an enter the rubber trade. Apart from the opera all this is surplus scaffolding, roughly equivalent to Conrad or Coppola giving us excess motivation for their Kurtzes, as the main meal is getting that boat to the right part of the river, beyond some impassable rapids. Herzog manufactures beliefs for the indigenous, as is his wont: in this case that a White God will appear and lead them to some promised land. (Captain Paul Hittscher and Klaus Kinski both wear white but everyone knows Kinski is the god.) With labourers and gramophone in hand the boat can now go over the mountain. The big set piece is much like The Wages of Fear for tension, and Zorba the Greek for batshit analog craziness. It's mostly a lot of fun.

Forward! to Burden of Dreams and surely My Best Fiend.

Roger Ebert: four stars in 1982 and another four stars in 2005 as a "great movie". Vincent Canby made it a critic's pick. More The African Queen than Aguirre. IMDb trivia. Cardinale had a retrospective at MoMA this year. She seemed so happy to be in this picture and lights up every scene she's in.