September 7th 2008 23:38
Earlier this month, I reviewed Werner Herzog's "Aguirre, Wrath of God", a diabolical film that takes a film crew into the heart of the Peruvian jungle to capture the story of Aguirre de Lopo searching for the famed El Dorado.
In 1982, Herzog returned to the Amazon to make a film about an Irish merchant named Brian Sweeney Fitzcarraldo, who dreams of his rise to power, when he would build an opera house in a tiny jungle town, and invite Enrico Caruso to sing there on the opening night. "Fitzcarraldo" is set in the early 20th century, when the hidden parts of the Earth swallowed up men who would explore it.
In order to raise the money for the opera house, Fitzcarraldo buys a broken down steamboat and plans to sail it up a tributary off the Amazon, pull the boat over a mountain and drop it into a neighboring tributary, so he can access the wealth of rubber trees there. To get there, though, they'll have to brave raging rapids and tribes of hostile natives that are known to make shrunken heads out of foreign intruders.
Klaus Kinski plays Fitzcarraldo, and in typical Kinski style, comes off as completely mad, obsessed with having his opera house in the tiny village. As opposed to the barbaric madness of Aguirre, Kinski plays Fitzcarraldo with obsession, but a soft, warm touch. He befriends the natives with open arms, and the children of the town flock to him.
Luckily, Fitzcarraldo has the full support of his lover, Molly, a local brothel owner with a heart of gold. She's played by the beautiful Claudia Cardinale and eagerly gives Fitzcarraldo the funds to engage on the expedition up the river.
"Fitzcarraldo" is an astonishing film. It's a fascinating story, and wonderfully made, but the real achievement of the film is that Herzog actually pulled the steamboat up a mountain, with no special effects or tricks.
Herzog proudly notes that no one has ever done this for a film, but admitted that no would even bother to try. Like Fitzcarraldo, Herzog is a man with ambition vision, and the dedication towards foolish projects. The scenes of the boat, slowly climbing the steep incline are brazen, slapping you in the face with the terrifying reality. Modern cinema relies too much on CGI, deadening us to the events in the film, making the audience shrug with acceptance. A real boat up a real mountain, though - that's the stuff of legends.
"Fitzcarraldo" is a monumental acheivement, and Herzog won the Best Director Prize at Cannes that year. I can only imagine the audience at Cannes, mouths agape, the silence of shock filling the cinema. Only a fool would set out on a ludicrous project like this, but Herzog's success has cemented him as one of the boldest filmmakers of all time.
I say: Absolutely magnificent... even though it has a long running time, with a delightfully trickling pace, "Fitzcarraldo" is hard to turn away from, mainly due to the commanding presence of Klaus Kinski.
See it for: Claudia Cardinale is radiant in this film, dressed with white fabrics, walking through the muddy fishing village, a dazzling smile and an arm linked with Kinski.
*this image is from the Timeout NYC review
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