Aguirre, the Wrath of God ★★★★½

My First Review of Aguirre: The Wrath of God

Aguirre: The Wrath of God is a triumph for Werner Herzog. It follows a group of conquistadors as they descend into the depths of the Amazon, which is to say that they descend into the depths of insanity. I want to use this review to talk about two elements of the film which make it work so well: the cinematography and Kinski's performance.

As Roger Ebert noted, Herzog has a brilliant pictorial eye. Throughout Aguirre: The Wrath of God, Herzog captures the Amazon in lush images of natural beauty. It is an amazing feat, especially because of the grueling filming conditions. What also stands out about the cinematography is the documentary style. Throughout the film, Herzog's camera is handheld, movements are imperfect and shaky, and water gets on the camera lens, blurring the images on occasion. Many note that this helps to put the viewer in the moment, as if he is there, and while I agree with this, more importantly it helps to create a visceral atmosphere to the film, which is what truly immerses the viewer IMO.

Many have noted Klaus Kinski's brilliant performance. Aguirre has sociopathic swagger, frequently lost in epic visions, possessed with operatic faculty. He is drunk on ambition, coldly cunning, and his confidence and courage make him a force to challenge the wrath of nature.

The cinematography and Kinski's performance have intellectual value to complement the emotional impact. The cinematography emphasizes the visceral, dangerous beauty of nature, and Kinski as Aguirre emphasizes the monomaniacal madness of colonialism. Both are cold and villainous, and while everyone else succumbs to nature, Aguirre alone stands, in the final frame he remains.

Aguirre: The Wrath of God is a riveting documentary on one man's unquenchable ambition pitted against God and Gaia. Because of Herzog's commitment, the dangerous beauty of nature and the swaggering drive of Aguirre are vivid and gripping . It is one of the essential works of cinematic art, and one of the best films from the 1970s.

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