You know when American or British films are set in a foreign land, and they still speak the English language, but are portraying a different nationality? There’s loads of examples. The Hollywood version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011), Les Miserables (2012). Also The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014), Schindler’s List (1994). There’s literally too many to mention. Kinda the same with Aguirre, Wrath of God.
It shouldn’t take me aback when I watch a German film, in the German language, with the actors portraying Spaniards. But it does. It’s just really bizarre and I can’t think of another non-English language film I have seen whose characters are not the nationality of the language they are speaking. It’s jarring to me. But I know that’s a problematic thought. So, I’m very happy for that reason alone that I chose this film as my April Blind Spot along with many others.
Aguirre, Wrath of God
This is my very first Werner Herzog directed film and I had a few expectations. I knew it was going to be an epic and shot entirely on location. The shoot that was riddled with monumental technical issues. I also knew Herzog and Klaus Kinski, the actor who played Aguirre, clashed severely on the direction of the character. But for those of you who are aware of how well this film was critically received, none of this showed. It was a pacey, lavish epic that reminded me simultaneously of a Shakespearean epic and a low budget docudrama.
The narrative takes place in 1560. A team of Spanish soldiers have just conquered the Inca Empire and are on a mission to find the mythical country of El Dorado. Running low on food and supplies, the commander of the team splits up the group and asks a select few to go on alone. And should they not return in a week, they would be presumed dead. Cue lots of manic behaviour and arrows flying around killing everyone left, right and centre.
To sail or not to sail…
The film has undertones of a Shakespearean epic for a number of reasons. Firstly, the time Aguirre, Wrath of God is set isn’t too far off The Bard’s era. So, the costumes and the similarly poetic dialogue are reminiscent of the battles scenes in Macbeth. Aguirre’s internal monologues of how he has fallen from grace, the delirium that some of the men suffer is a regular narrative element in many of Shakespeare’s plays.
And then there’s the strikingly personal and raw style cinematography that moves with the actors as they float out on rafts, moves in for many close ups around other characters as if we were right in there as Spanish soldiers ourselves. We almost could have been on a documentary shoot in the Amazonian rainforest, which the cast and crew of Aguirre pretty much were.
Style is everything
But despite the look and feel of the film being on point, the heavy historical narrative was completely lost on me (as they so often are) so I have literally no idea what really happened. However, Francis Ford Coppola has said that Aguirre was a notable stylistic influence on his own masterpiece Apocalypse Now (1979) which I have embarrassingly never seen before so if Coppola has taken the style of Aguirre and beefed it up with some Hollywood energy, I think it will have been well worth the wait.
Have you ever seen Aguirre, Wrath of God? Would you consider it a ‘must watch’?