Aguirre: The Wrath Of God

Aguirre: The Wrath Of God

***1/2

Reviewed by: Gary Duncan

Peru, 1560. When Spanish conquistadors searching for El Dorado, the fabled city of gold, become entangled in the inhospitable jungle, a scouting party is sent down river to continue the mission. Led by noblemen Don Pedro de Ursua (Ruy Guerra) and Don Lope de Aguirre (Klaus Kinski), the party soon runs into trouble when one of the rafts is sucked into a whirlpool and its crew murdered by unseen natives. Undaunted and ignoring the dangers that lie ahead, Don Lope assumes command and heads further down river in search of gold.

Director Werner Herzog wrote the script in two-and-a-half days. The dialogue is pared down to essentials - just enough to keep the story moving - and much of it was improvised on set, giving the film a raw, authentic quality. This is heightened by the director's decision to shoot the film using a single 35mm camera and at times it plays like a documentary, or one of those in-your-face adrenalin flicks you'd watch at the local Imax. At one point, when Don Lope's raft is caught in rapids, the camera lens gets a good soaking and it feels as though you're actually there.

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At the same time, Aguirre is breathtakingly visual and epic in its ambitions, from the long opening shot of the conquistadors snaking their way down a precipitous mountain trail, to the sweeping panoramas of the Amazon and the Peruvian jungle.

Not even these, however, can compare with the sight of Kinski, as the deranged conquistador. With his piercing blue eyes, sharp cheekbones and long yellow hair, he hogs the camera and never lets go. Even when he is not centre stage, he still demands your attention - a brooding, scowling presence in the background, ready to explode at any moment. It is a haunting performance and one that reminds you of that other great study of man's descent into madness and megalomania, Brando's Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now.

Don Lope is ruthlessly single-minded. He will find El Dorado and nothing else matters, even as his men are picked off one by one by an invisible enemy that lurks in the jungle. He has no qualms about abandoning the raft, trapped in the whirlpool, and barely raises an eyebrow when he discovers that the crew has been murdered. Later, he has a man beheaded at the first hint of revolt: such is the speed and ferocity of the attack that the severed head continues talking as it lies in the grass. Not even the death of his young daughter, killed by a sniper's arrow, can bring the man to his senses. Like Kurtz, he's already a lost cause.

Reviewed on: 22 Mar 2004
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Aguirre: The Wrath Of God packshot
Klaus Kinski plays a mad conquistador searching for El Dorado.
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Director: Werner Herzog

Writer: Werner Herzog

Starring: Klaus Kinski, Daniel Ades, Peter Berling, Ruy Guerra, Del Negro, Armando Polanah, Alejandro Repulles, Cecilia Rivera, Helena Rojo

Year: 1972

Runtime: 90 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Germany


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