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Aguirre: The Wrath of God

Aguirre: Wrath of God (1972)

Starring: Klaus Kinski, Hellena Rojo, Ruy Guerra
Directed by: Werner Herzog

"Aguirre: Wrath of God" begins with an amazing shot, one of the most ominous and mystifying ever created. It shows the captured natives and their rulers, the greedy conquistadors marching down a steep, foggy mountain. You instantly know things won't go as well as planned, because the foreshadowing made with falling cannons, natives dropping dead, and most of all the demoralized, crazed faces of the men dehydrated- not from lack of water- but an ever-lasting thirst for riches and fame, is truly brilliant. It sets the tone of the film perfectly; from now on what we wll be saying is madness, only madness, just madness.

The most crazed of all the doomed men is Aguirre, (Klaus Kinski), a wrath waiting to grow. Since the very beginning of the film you can see him lurking around, blue eyes batting in disgust towards the current leadership, confidence that one day he'll be in charge and remembered as the one who find the legendary city of El Dorado, the city the men are looking forward, rumors of it filled with gold and riches. He gets his chance when the main commander, Gonzalo Pizarro (Alejandro Repulles) assigns him second-in-command, just under Pedro De Ursa (Ruy Guerra) to explore the rivers. He convinces the men and takes over as soon as he gets the chance.

Afterwards there isn't much of a plot to explain. Actually, there isn't much plot because there is no reason to have a complex one. We all know the men including Aguirre are all going to perish, one way or another. Adding quests and dialogue and plot twists only becomes an agonizing factor to a film born to me minimalist at its best. It is an adventure film, but we don't get what we usually call "adventure" in film. There is no magical items, no unrealistic swashbuckling movement of men. We don't even get to see the enemy, where our explorers are at, or even what's happening. In the usual case we would not get detail considering the voyage to the ultimate destination- the ultimate destination is all that is mostly shown. This film is all about the voyage- a haunting, mesmerizing illusion of destruction.

I'd like to comment on how the way the film is shot and directed, because it's what makes the film stand out even more. When Herzog makes a camera movement or transition or cut, the instability shows- on purpose. There's a lack of dialog and sound. Basically "Aguirre: Wrath of God" is a documentary missing a few interviews here and there, but the great thing is we don't need interviews to see how the men are feeling, it's all described perfectly with Herzog's minimal script and direction, and of course the acting, which is great not because the actors all have great performances, it's that they are so realistic.

So there it is, what you can expect from "Aguirre: Wrath of God" A slow path to a pure demented state lead by the one-of-a-kind Klaus Kinski. That golden city, that river's end seems so close, yet never becomes a reality. Or was the entire experience on the boat made-up hallucinations? Nobody really knows, and I think it's the beauty of the film.

"Aguirre: Wrath of God" is a simple idea elevated to so many states of genius.