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13 February, 2006

Review: 'Aguirre: The Wrath Of God' (1972)

The opening scene, of an expedition decending a near-vertical Andean path, was visually stunning, but from then on....
This was rated by IMDb users as one of the top 250 films of all time (no.220), the greatest of Werner Herzog's collaborations with Klaus Kinski, but I really don't understand why.

It could have been an excellent film, but the minimalist production was far too raw and intrusive; the sound production was seriously flawed (disjointed and mismatched), and the practicalities of filming in a South American jungle were too visible. A couple of examples:
In the climactic scene, the movement of the camera clearly indicates that it's mounted on a speedboat. As the camera moves around Aguirre for the reverse angle, the boat's wake is in full view. Considering this was supposed to be a moment of great isolation, and in the 16th Century, this was too much disbelief to suspend.
Even that stunning opening scene featured a rather irregular pan (i.e. it didn't feel like the eye naturally panned down the cliff; rather, it looked like a camera moving on a tripod), and could have been edited much tighter. Indeed, the laxity of editing is another major criticism of the whole film.

It may seem I'm dwelling on technical aspects too much, but that's my point: the technical aspects were far too apparent, and continually interposed themselves between the viewer and the story.

There was very little plot. That's not inherently a problem, but it increases the pressure to make the ambience and characterisation especially compelling. However, the acting was somnambulant, even amateurish – don't look at the camera, you fools!
The sole exception was Klaus Kinski's performance as Aguirre himself, which was too internalised for the context. Sometimes a glance or small gesture can convey a lot, but only if the audience has already been drawn in.

Script: fine. Location: excellent. Performance: poor. Production: crude.
Not recommended.

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