Infamous Pairing of Herzog, Kinski Creates Genuine Insanity in
Infamous Pairing of Herzog, Kinski Creates Genuine Insanity in “Aguirre: The Wrath of God”
by Ky N. Nguyen
The late German actor Klaus Kinski was known for his genius, but it was often overshadowed by his manic fits of rage—the stuff of legend. The only director willing to cast Kinski a second time, visionary German filmmaker Werner Herzog (interviewed in the August 2005 issue of The Washington Diplomat) must have been crazy to do it five times. Their tumultuous relationship was bared in Herzog’s 1998’s documentary, “My Best Fiend,” in which he said, “Every gray hair on my head, I call Kinski.”
The infamous duo’s first collaboration was “Aguirre: The Wrath of God,” which returns to the big screen with a new 35th anniversary print. Within a “Heart of Darkness” plot structure, Kinski plays a conquistador floating down the Amazon, growing ever more insane as he gets sucked into the jungle.
Although Kinski hated acting and directors, he admitted, “Making movies is better than cleaning toilets.” So he followed Herzog deep into the Amazon rain forest of Peru. Understandably, Kinski became weary of the heat, humidity, insects and trudging through the jungle bearing the weight of armor. In the middle of production, he threatened to walk off the set. Herzog said he’d shoot Kinski if that happened, recalling: “I meant it.”
According to the director, he has to get his shots on location to get the “voodoo” of the place. He does not distinguish between fiction and documentary films, and in a sense, “Aguirre” is like a feature-length reality show. See Kinski fidgeting on that sinking raft? It’s really going down into the water.
No wonder we can feel Kinski’s nervous tension within our skin. This goes far beyond method acting. We have a madman directing a madman playing a madman. So sit back and become mesmerized by the genuine insanity that unfolds on the big screen.
Aguirre: The Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) (German with subtitles; 100 min.) Opens Fri., March 2 AFI Silver Theatre
4.5 out of 5 stars
For years, the world’s most striking horror films have been coming out of Asia, generally relying on psychological thrills over blood and guts. Though unsettling, these quality titles hit the international festival circuit and gained prestigious selections at Cannes, Berlin, Venice and other top festivals. Japan’s “shockmeisters,” such as the prolific Takashi Miike (1999’s “Audition”), once led the way.
Lately, however, Korean horror moviemakers have gotten the bulk of the attention. Park Chan-wook’s “Oldboy” (2003) and Bong Joon-ho’s “Memories of Murder” (2003) were unforgettable. Japanese investors were also impressed, putting up half the financing for Bong’s follow-up, “The Host.”
Like “Memories,” “The Host” gives us a nice blend of genres: horror, thriller, drama, action and comedy. It even throws fantasy into the mix, with a Godzilla-like mutant created by toxic waste thrown into the river by the U.S. military. Alas, the monster wreaks havoc on a family in the Dystopian Korean setting. Like much Asian cinema, “The Host” is enjoyably over the top in its action and performances. Yet it’s also rather well restrained in some ways.
Special effects supervisor Kevin Rafferty (“Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace” and “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”) generates a respectable creature, although a million budget only goes so far, even when that amount is huge by Korean standards. At Cannes 2006, which was generally considered to be a weak year, “The Host” apparently created quite a buzz in the Director’s Fortnight. A Toronto programmer called it the “best monster movie ever.” This is no navel-gazing European art film.
The Host (Gwoemul) (Korean with subtitles; 119 min.) Opens Fri., March 9 Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4 out of 5 stars
Wunderkind German writer-director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck has become an overnight sensation in Germany with “The Lives of Others.” His debut feature has become a must-see—even members of the Reichstag are lining up for tickets. While packing it in at the box office, the film has garnered a bevy of awards, including an Oscar nomination and European Film Awards for Best Film, Screenplay and Actor.
In 1984’s East Germany, Stasi agent Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Mühe) is tapped for a surveillance job of playwright Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) and his girlfriend, actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck). His mission is to uncover any actions against the state by Dreyman.
Wiesler, however, becomes engrossed in the lives of Dreyman and Sieland, which are filled with love and meaning. The spy realizes what he’s missing in his own barren existence. Going native, he seeks to protect his targets from harm, putting himself at great risk.
The story has apparently touched a cord with Germans who haven’t forgotten their divided country during the Cold War. Non-German viewers, including myself, probably won’t be able to understand all the layers of meaning. “The Lives of Others” premiered in D.C. last November during the EU Film Showcase at the AFI Silver Theatre, presented by the filmmaker (see Dec. 7, 2006, news column of the Diplomatic Pouch).
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) (German with subtitles; 137 min.) Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4.5 out of 5 stars
Babe on the ‘Avenue’
With “Avenue Montaigne,” veteran French writer Danièle Thompson (“Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train”) tackles her third directorial job (after “Jet Lag” and “La Bûche”). The third time’s apparently the charm, helped by a carefully polished script co-written by her actor son, Christopher Thompson.
Provincial beauty Jessica (Cécile de France) arrives in Paris ready to immediately drink in all of its delights. On famed Avenue Montaigne—a Parisian hub of art, theater, music and fashion—she manages to swing a waitressing gig at an old school neighborhood bistro where struggling theater crewmembers dine along with the rich and famous.
Among the mix of diners is an art collector (Claude Brasseur) preparing to auction off his entire collection and trying to reconcile with his son (Christopher Thompson). An esteemed concert pianist (Albert Dupontel), meanwhile, wants to retire—a ghastly thought to his wife and manager (Laura Morante)—and a well-known television comedy star (Valérie Lemercier) jockeys for a serious movie role with a hotshot Hollywood director (Sydney Pollack).
Not knowing how elite her upper-class diners are, Jessica naïvely treats them just like everybody else. Her innocence changes her prestigious customers, who are at a crossroads in their lives, and the babe in the woods in turn learns about city ways. “Avenue Montaigne” works satisfyingly as a gentle comedy showing life’s twists and turns.
Avenue Montaigne (Fauteuils d’Orchestre) (French with subtitles; 106 min.) Opens Fri., March 2 Landmark’s E Street Cinema
4 out of 5 stars
Please see International Film Clips for detailed listings available at press time.
Environmental Film Festival (EFF) The massive Environmental Film Festival returns for its 15th year in the nation’s capital from March 15 to 25, bringing with it 115 different films spotlighting environmental issues from 27 countries. In addition, nearly 100 filmmakers, scientists and other special guests, including many of Washington’s ambassadors, will be on hand for the screenings, which take place at some 40 venues throughout the city.
Expect a diverse assortment of documentaries, features, archival and children’s films covering everything from an IMAX view of Hurricane Katrina to an ethnographic portrayal of Australia’s Ramingining Aboriginal community. (202) 342-2564, www.dcenvironmentalfilmfest.org
Francophonie 2007 The annual celebration of culture from French-speaking countries (which also includes concerts on March 9, 16, and 29 to 30) is sponsored by the Francophonie Committee of Washington, D.C., in collaboration with the Smithsonian Associates.
“Cinéma de la Francophonie” runs every Tuesday in March at 7 p.m. On March 27 at the Freer Gallery of Art, the Washington premiere of Canadian writer-director Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her” will probably be followed by a Q&A with the first-time filmmaker.
La Grande Fête de la Francophonie takes place on March 23 at La Maison Française—featuring music by the Casablanca Band, DJ TASS and dancers. More than 30 embassies, governments and associations from the Francophone world present their culture and cuisine. (202) 357-3030, www.francophoniedc.org, www.residentassociates.org
Hirshhorn: Guarani and Zidane On March 22 at 8 p.m., catch a rare Guarani-language screening: “Hamaca Paraguaya (Paraguay Swings),” which follows an older couple’s wait for their son’s return from the Chaco war in 1935. The Un Certain Regard/FIPRESCI winner at Cannes 2006, Paz Encina’s debut feature is the first commission of “New Crown Hope,” which invites artists to react to the themes of Mozart’s final three masterpieces (“The Magic Flute,” “La Clemenza di Tito” and “Requiem”). To commemorate the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, the city of Vienna instigated the sweepingly ambitious multimedia project produced by renowned theater-opera director Peter Sellars and collaborators.
On April 7, “Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait”—which appeared in the New Frontiers section at Sundance 2007—can be viewed as a conceptual art profile of French-Algerian soccer star Zinédine Zidane, the best player of his generation. The 17 cameras shoot 90 real-time minutes of Zidane during his team Real Madrid’s Spanish league game with Villareal on April 23, 2005.
Near the end of the match, Zidane is ejected with a red card (for shoving). Ironically, he’s now immortalized for the red card that marked his infamous last act before retirement. During overtime in the World Cup 2006 final, he head-butted Italian player Marco Materazzi in response to repeated insults of Zidane’s ancestry, mother and sister. (202) 633-1000, www.hirshhorn.si.edu/programs/films.asp
D.C. Independent Film Festival (DCIFF) In 1999, a new festival to showcase local independent filmmakers was born, called D.C. Dance. The homage to Sundance followed the tradition of Park City’s shadow festivals Slamdance, Slumdance, X-Dance, Tromadance, etc. Unfortunately, as founder Carol Bidault recalled, “No one got it.” Transformed into the D.C. Independent Film Festival (DCIFF), the festival’s programming, much like Sundance’s, has expanded over the years to include films from across the globe, often selections on the international festival circuit.
From March 1 to 11, DCIFF includes screenings and panels, paralleled by the D.C. Independent Music Festival, at the University of the District of Columbia. After the opening ceremony, DCIFF presents its 2007 Lifetime Achievement Award to British producer-director John Daly, who won back-to back Oscars as producer of “Platoon” and “The Last Emperor.” (202) 537-9493, www.dciff.org
AFI Silver Theatre Cinema Tropical presents the Cuban rap doc “Young Rebels” (March 3-7) and Argentinean comedy “Magic Gloves” (March 10). The “Infernal Affairs” trilogy—the original Hong Kong hit that was remade as Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed”—runs March 9 to 15. From March 10 to April 9, catch the Bard on the big screen in Shakespeare Cinema, including Richard Loncraine’s “Richard III.” Japanese humanist Kenji Mizoguchi gets a mini-retrospective from March 16 to April 26. Shirley Clarke—New Yorker with Italian Neorealist Eye runs March 16 to April 10; Fred Zinnemann Centennial—Vienna to Hollywood runs March 16 to April 24; and the World of Jacques Tati is featured from March 24 to April 23. (301) 495-6700, www.afi.com/Silver
Freer: Celebrating Kerala Cinema From March 2 to 18, six films honor the 50th anniversary of the state of Kerala, in association with the Embassy of India. On March 4, director Anup Kurian presents “Manasarovar.” (202) 357-2700, www.asia.si.edu/events/films.asp
Cinema Korea Through August, the new Monthly Film Screening Series continues at the KORUS House of the Korean Embassy (March 28), the Kenney Auditorium at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Service (March 15), and the George Mason Public Library (March 21) in Annandale, Va. (202) 663-5930, www.dynamic-korea.com/korus_house/cinema_korea.php
National Gallery: Nazi Art and Béla Tarr On March 4, Lynn Nicholas and Robert M. Edse appear in person for “The Rape of Europa,” which recounts the effort to restore art looted by the Nazis. See recent beautiful but very bleak works from Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr—March 18’s “Damnation” and March 25’s “Werckmeister Harmonies.” (202) 842-6799, www.nga.gov/programs/film.shtm
Goethe-Institut: Wagner in Hollywood In conjunction with the Washington National Opera’s production of the second part of Wagner’s “Ring” cycle, the Goethe-Institut presents Wagner in Hollywood every Monday at 6:30 p.m.: “The Scarlett Empress,” “The Uninvited,” “Humoresque” and “Apocalypse Now.” (202) 289-1200, www.goethe.de/washington
Pare Lorentz DVD Classical label Naxos released a new DVD of Pare Lorentz’s beautiful New Deal environmental documentaries “The Plow that Broke the Plains” and “The River.” The Post-Classical Ensemble’s modern recordings of the famous Virgil Thompson soundtracks, conducted by Angel Gil-Ordóñez with narration by Floyd King, recreate June 2005’s AFI Silver Theatre performances. www.naxosusa.com
About the Author
Ky N. Nguyen is the film reviewer for The Washington Diplomat.