Aguirre, the Wrath of God/Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972)


Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)The Werner Herzog Season began last weekend on Film4 and I am finally getting around to catching up with the German directors work, having seen only a few of his more recent documentaries, I needed to take advantage of this opportunity. Beginning in chronological order with Aguirre, the Wrath of God/Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972) If I’m honest I didn’t know what to expect from his work, having seen his loving remake of Nosferatu (1979). I noticed early on there was very little dialogue in this period film that finds the Spanish King leading his men in search of the legendary gold of El Dorado in 1560 and 1561. Taking his entourage through the tropical jungles of Peru, where the Inca people lived before had been wiped out a few decades ago. Leaving only the savage Indians to be fearful of. We can clearly see that this was a struggle to shoot up in locations that are far from normal. Herzog was pushing his cast a crew to extremes to deliver this thought-provoking film that sees a power-hungry Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski) who is sent among 40 men. We can already see that Aguirre is a decisive figure, the small groups leader Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) has doubts about his second in command as they set out on three rafts to seek out supplies on a week long journey. 

We know as the audience they won’t be back in a week, the journey so far has taken lives of slaves they have taken with them, the conditions are too much for some. Whatever is thrown up against these men Aguirre is somewhere in the distance, calculating and manipulating the situation to his advantage. It’s all in the eyes of Klaus Kinski who has the look of a man on the edge of madness, delusion of god and power that see him mould any situation to his advantages. He has your attention even when he has no lines.

The others know he is not to be trusted, yet his power is enough to lean things in his favour. I can’t wait to see his rise to power, to understand him more, to know what he is in search off. With the odds of a safe return against them they discuss returning, something that Aguirre is dead-set against, wanting to carry on, with delusions of grandeur, imaging great stories will be written about those who discover and conquer south American, an empire larger than Spain is something he can’t pass-up. Turning against his king and country, he persuades them to move on. His rhetoric is only just beginning, able to induce those around him. If the majority agree they have to follow democratically, before forming his dictatorship. With only one ally, Brother Gaspar de Carvajal (Del Negro) who also narrates this doomed tale.

Every chance Aguirre gets he uses to his advantage, even placing a figure-head in charge of the team, proclaiming themselves the new Spain claiming all the land they travel through. A lot happens in a film that runs incredibly slow. The rise and fall of a dictator working from the sidelines, pulling strings in order to stay on-top. Those more powerful become powerless really to stop this once knight of the King. As they travel on a larger raft like a royal river passage, taking on the unknown indian enemy with full force and ignorance.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God is a film of power and delusions of grandeur, brought to life by Kinski who is driven by the 16th century figure who seizes the moment to create his own history and glory. Losing all sense of reality, giving into desire and a higher powers, believing he was more than human, makes for great cinema to become more than flesh and blood, a godly figure to be feared, revered and respected.

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4 responses

  1. Interesting.
    Last I saw of Kinski, Eastwood was ventilating him.
    Us Westerners really have to get out more.

    February 3, 2015 at 6:30 am

    • What were they in together, will have to check that out?

      February 3, 2015 at 7:29 pm

      • Kinski – an interesting man who had a very difficult life. Over here Kinski he’s relatively unknown, but he appeared on over 130 movies – lots of Spaghetti Westerns in the 70’s – but some artiistic works as well. The Eastwood Western was Sergio Leone’s ‘For a Few Dollars More (1965)’. You may recall the famous scene in the bar where Lee Van Cleef stikes a match on the back of Kinski’s neck.

        February 4, 2015 at 5:42 am

      • I never knew he was so prolific, or even in A few dollars more, really need to revisit that trilogy, might even watch it beginning with the good, the and the ugly first, when clint found his poncho.

        February 4, 2015 at 6:43 pm

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