Review: Fitzcarraldo (1982)

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I have trouble getting my SUV up small hills, I don’t see myself fairing well with a mountain and a boat!

Written By: Werner Herzog
Directed By: Werner Herzog

I found myself quite happy with my experience viewing Fitzcarraldo, but I also find myself having difficulty putting the experience into words. Inevitably I will talk about the craftsmanship of the film, that much is obviously great and easy to talk about. The same is true for the performance of Klaus Kinski, or for the amazing visuals contained within the running time of Fitzcarraldo. But, I am having trouble putting the message of Fitzcarraldo into words because I believe it does have two main messages that are counter to one another.

On the one hand Fitzcarraldo is a very uplifting movie, the type of movie that doesn’t come along all that often. Not only is it uplifting and sincere in its quest to make you realize that dreams are worth following, it’s also deep and nowhere near cliche. For instance, as much as I did like this years uplifting darling, Slumdog Millionaire, it was a very cliche movie. Fitzcarraldo is the exact opposite, it is startlingly original in how it chooses to tell an inspirational story because it tells such a story through the guise of madness.

On the other hand, Fitzcarraldo is very depressing and hits you full force with the idea that in order to pursue his dream man will destroy all that is natural around him. Yes, Fitzgerald, for the sake of the review that’s what I’ll be calling him, does eventually get his dream and brings the opera to Iquitos. But, he never opens his beloved opera house or enjoys the success that you feel should be rewarded to a man that chases his dreams so ardently. The flip side is the theme of man destroying nature because of his inability to work with it. Fitzgerald just has to get to the other side of that mountain, and to do so he rips the jungle apart, uses the native culture and once again shows the time honored trend of man working against nature instead of with it.

The above showcases the divergent themes housed in Fitzcarraldo, but despite the massive differences they still coalesce into one fine film. You are able to watch and be happy for Fitzgerald, upset at him, sad for him and think maybe he has found a little happiness after all. So many emotions are able to run through your body as a result of the various levels that Fitzcarraldo works on, it is truly an all encompassing experience.

I’ve talked before about Klaus Kinski’s ability to completely bury himself in a role and bring madness to the screen like no other. Fitzcarraldo is yet another example of this. This time Kinski has the hair going too and he doesn’t just sound like a raving lunatic, he looks like one as well. Those piercing blue eyes are still present and Kinski still dominates every moment of the film. He is in love, he is chasing his dream, he is a failure, and we believe in him every step of the way. That is Kinski’s strongest asset, his ability to make us unflinchingly believe in whatever he is trying to tell us on screen.

Finally, you have the impressive visuals provided by Werner Herzog. The entire film looks beautiful, but then it gets to the coup de grace, he actually lifted a 180 ton boat up the side of that mountain! Every second that we watch the ship travel up the mountain we are mesmerized, and caught up in the suspense all at the same time. I dare say that the lifting of that boat up that mountain is one of the finest cinematic achievements the world has ever seen,.

I wouldn’t put Fitzcarraldo above what I consider to be Herzog’s best work, Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes, but it is still a masterpiece of the cinema. Because of its ability to work on so many levels Fitzcarraldo is a film that resonates and stays with you long after the final reel has rolled across the screen. Fans of long, sprawling, beautiful, thoughtful films definitely need to see Fitzcarraldo, or if you are looking for a truly inspirational film with actual depth to it, then Fitzcarraldo is the film for you.

Rating:

****

Cheers,
Bill

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One response to “Review: Fitzcarraldo (1982)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: Directing Props, Pt. 2! | Bill's Movie Emporium

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