Review: Cobra Verde (1987)

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The final collaboration between the best of friends and the most vicious of enemies, Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog!

Written By: Werner Herzog
Directed By: Werner Herzog

Cobra Verde is viewed as the lesser of all the Kinski/Herzog collaborations, but for me that label would fall to Woyzeck. Cobra Verde doesn’t equal up to their other works together, but it is still an august picture. I know many people have had problems with the narrative and I would agree that it is disjointed in the beginning Brazilian sections. However, once it hits Africa Cobra Verde presents a cohesive narrative as well as an interesting take on the issue of slavery. That take was what drew me the most to Cobra Verde, it handles a hard topic far differently than most films handle the same topic or other similar ones.

Even among the films that I love there is always a certain amount of sentimentality that is infused into a tale about a subject such as slavery. Cobra Verde takes a different tact, it presents slavery as an amoral act. But something funny happens, by taking a removed stance the true abhorrence of slavery is put on display for all to see. Herzog doesn’t make any judgments on slavery or the perpetrators of it, he allows you to see the act as it really happened and make your own decisions based on that. When presented with the stripped down and bare look at the act it becomes clear rather quickly that sentimentality is not needed to show slavery as the atrocity it is.

Herzog doesn’t stop there, he also allows the amoral stance to touch on the African tribe as well. They are just as culpable in the slave trade as any white man is, and Herzog doesn’t spare them in any fashion. They trade Kings and power, but the slave trade continues at its normal clip. The target for anger in regards to the slave trade is almost always directed towards the white slavers. By stripping away the morality play that is often associated with slavery Herzog allows us to see all that are at fault, both tribesman and white man. There can be no greater hypocrisy than labeling the white man as your enemy and the devil, but then selling your fellow man to him for goods and services.

There are other elements of Cobra Verde that are well done. The camera work by Herzog is beautiful to look at, as is the authenticity of both the Brazilian and African landscape. Kinski gives one of his better performances in Cobra Verde. I recently lamented how Kinski has the bad habit of playing every role as insane in some way. There are still small traits of that in Francisco, but for the most part Kinski plays him as a cog in the machine. A wild cog likely to do his own thing, but a cog nonetheless.

As I mentioned at the start, the Brazilian scenes have a different pacing and tone to them and everything before Francisco goes to work at the plantation feels too drawn out and could have used some condensing. I also wasn’t a fan of the dubbing over of the native languages. I can understand it from a production standpoint, but it did take away from the movie somewhat when the Brazilians and Africans had their dialogue dubbed over in favor of German.

Not the best from Herzog, nor from Kinski, but still a fine film. I know I am in the minority when it comes to Cobra Verde, but I did favor the amoral approach to slavery that much. It is well acted, with brilliant locales, some nice camerawork and a powerful narrative and theme that work in a unique way. Cobra Verde shouldn’t be the first Herzog or Kinski film that you see, but it is one that you should see at some point. And with that I take my reprieve from Herzog for a period of time.

Rating:

***1/2

Cheers,
Bill

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3 responses to “Review: Cobra Verde (1987)

  1. nice thought

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

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