Title: Aguirre, the Wrath of God
Release Date: December 29, 1972
Director: Werner Herzog
Production Company: Werner Herzog Filmproduktion | Hessischer Rundfunk
This the first narrative film by Herzog that I’ve watched, and it is as bleak as his reputation. It tells the story of Spanish conquistadors in 1560 traveling through the Andes in search of the legendary city of El Dorado. Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) is the second in command of a scouting party sent down a river on four rafts. Kinski portrays Aguirre not only as ambitious but so literally drunk on power that he staggers when he walks.
The movie features some startling shots, including the introduction when hundreds of soldiers, enslaved indigenous people, and two women (carried in sedan chairs) process in a long line on a muddy mountain trail. It was filmed on location and must’ve required dozens of extras but it’s an impressive scene and serves also to introduce all the main characters.
The sight of armored Spanish soldiers bearing swords and guns against the wilderness is a great satire, because nothing is going to protect them from nature. Of course the indigenous people are also a threat, but its more likely that the Spaniards will enslave them or kill them for unknowing acts of blasphemy. Ultimately, though, the greatest threat to the party is one another as power and greed turns them against each other.
It’s a grim film, but an honest depiction of colonialism, exploitation, and in humanity.