The Wrath of God

Megalomania. Aguirre loses the plot completely in his quest for riches and fame
Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes
dir-scr Werner Herzog
with Klaus Kinski, Del Negro, Peter Berling, Ruy Guerra, Daniel Ades, Cecilia Rivera, Helena Rono, Armando Polanah, Edward Roland, Daniel Farfan, Antonio Marquez, Alejandro Repulles
rerelease 17.Aug.01
72/Germany 1h30

4 out of 5 stars
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Always try to watch a classic on the big screen, and this Herzog gem's reissue in London was my chance to finally see it up where it belongs. It makes a huge difference, right from that dramatic opening scene of the conquistadores descending a near vertical path down from the Andes into the Amazon. This is a fictionalised tale of Pizarro's quest for El Dorado in 1560, following a group of Spaniards (speaking German, but never mind) and their Inca slaves into the deepest, darkest rainforest. There the second in command, Aguirre (Kinski at his most wide-eyed and manic), mutinies and takes control, declaring himself "the wrath of God" and pushing forward even as his party is decimated by disease and the arrows, spears and darts of virtually invisible natives.

Herzog is on top form here, painstakingly recreating the journey and then photographing it in documentary style. Much is improvised, jerky and surprising as we basically watch the cast live the same experiences as the characters they're portraying. There are strong echoes of Richard III in Aguirre's power-mad quest, especially when he sets up the expedition's token royal (Berling) as Emperor of El Dorado. And the film is also a precursor to Coppola's Apocalypse Now as the rafts drift silently down the Amazon with its unseen enemies, muddled motivations and ill-defined destination. Quiet and atmospheric, creepy and grisly, drenched in both equatorial sunshine and scarlet blood--the film is startlingly powerful as it subtly examines themes of imperialism, corporate greed and ultimately personal madness. And yes, it's all completely unhinged as well ... but with haunting Andean panpipes playing in the background. Unforgettable.
themes, violence cert PG 13.Aug.01

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John Hurley, London: "Well done at first, but a bit too weird and wacky and became overdone in the end - the point (greed of man I think) didn't need hammering in so much for so long. Good photography and some nice cameos, though not enough to hold it together for me. Can't recommend." (29.Aug.01)

Kallie Wilbourn, Las Vegas, New Mexico: 4.5/5 "From the first scene, in which Incan slaves and conquistadors trail down a perilously steep incline as if in some medieval painting, we know only a brilliant maniac like Werner Herzog would make such a film. Low budget, real jungle, raging muddy river. As Aguirre, Kinski lashes his body about, raging - eyes bulging in his obsession to survive and to become somebody, a major wheel in the world. The music is haunting, an organic part of the film. There are excellent performances all around, big and small; and now one can watch the DVD and listen to Herzog's wonderful commentary." (11.Nov.05)

2001 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall