Fitzcarraldo (1982) (PG)
Werner Herzog's "Fitzcarraldo"is a work that feels as laborious as a ship being pulled up a mountain, which is coincidentally a huge part of the movie. True to form, our main character has to take a journey, both physical and emotional to the point where he's almost breaking.
What is curiously bizarre about "Fitzcarraldo" is how poetic it tries to be. Our lead man, Brian Fitzgerald (Herzog favorite Klaus Kinski) is in love with opera, in particular opera legend Caruso. He is so desperate to bring an opera house to the jungles of South America, that he is willing to do the craziest things. While everyone else is becoming rich and famous making rubber, Fitzgerald is trying to sell ice. This ludicrous venture turns out a little lukewarm and soon his wife—who owns a brothel—convinces him to join the rubber craze as everyone else has done.
Pride comes before a fall—Fitzgerald is so obsessed with his hubris and his art that he is willing to burn every and all bridges behind him just so he can stay atop his high horse. Naturally, this isn't he best way to earn business enterprises, but we get the feeling that this is not a rational man...not at all.
With his wife's prostitution money, Fitzgerald buys a steamship and hatches a plan. He will go up the Amazon and try to find trees to make rubber from. One of the many problems that he may encounter is the native tribe that lives upstream and is said to be quite savage when dealing with foreigners. So with steamship in hand and the wife left at home, he heads towards "his destiny", throwing caution to the wind and hiring a questionable crew.
"Fitzcarraldo" (so titled because it reflects a mispronunciation of the lead character's name) is a movie about failure and success. Almost every single thing that Fitzgerald tries to accomplish gets shut down and crumbles into disrepair. He tried to build a railroad, start an ice company, build a road over a mountain...they all seem to fail.
This is why there is great tension to "Fitzcarraldo", not because of the doom and possibility of death that hangs overhead. The tension is here because we all fear (and hope) that Fitzgerald will have another failure and will crumble much like his previous businesses. We saw it in "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" when Kinski was left standing on the middle of boat, king of the primates, beholding his glory in despair and half-insane pride. With "Fitzcarraldo", the emotions are much lower and much more muted, though the crazy shouting does occur here. The problem with the movie, like every other Herzog film I've seen, is that it's so damn boring. Almost reaching the three-hour mark and much of the film silent, "Fitzcarraldo" makes one wonder what they are doing with their life. I could have been so much more productive if I wasn't sitting on a couch for a long time...then again, it was just a matter of what other movie could I have watched.
Anyways...I'm being too harsh.
There is something fascinating about "Fitzcarraldo" in a fashion that I haven't noticed in Herzog's other work. I find the characters more believable, the scenery more digestible (though it essentially looks filmed in the same location that "Aguirre" was shot), and the pompous music more fitting to the mood. Herzog takes his time with everything. He likes to make sure that the atmosphere is just perfect and in doing so, sometimes he oversteps his time limit.
"Fitzcarraldo" does hold it glorious moments and its intrigue. It's gripping at parts and just plain goofy in others...in the end, I'm not sure I know what to think about it, which could have been the point all along.
Posted by Micah Jones