Werner Herzog / West Germany / 1972 / 93 min
Drawing heavily on Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, this lurid, hypnotic slab of new wave German cinema, is undoubtedly director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski’s finest collaboration and serves as the perfect example of the fraught relationship between director and leading man. On the surface it can be interpreted as a straightforward historical drama, documenting the efforts of a group of 16th century conquistadors trudging through the jungle in search of a fabled city of gold.
It’s here that the veneer of civilization is torn down, as the group, exemplified by Kinski’s descent into madness, tears itself apart in an orgy of greed and violence, all the while hemmed in by the eerie isolation of an encroaching jungle. The film also enters into another multi-dynamic phase, as a raving, frothing, Kinski, descends into megalomania, seeking to create a racially pure new world, damning all around him who do not conform to his vision of ‘utopia.’ This allegory of the last days of the Third Reich being played out in the heart of the Amazon is deftly handled by Herzog and only adds to the complexity of this thoughtful piece of cinema.
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