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Peru / West Germany 1982
Directed by
Werner Herzog
157 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars


Fitzcarraldo is not a great movie in terms of classical drama, but then such things are never Herzog's primary concern. It is however, like Coppola's Apocalypse Now (1979) or William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1974) a classic of heroic film-making. Not coincidentally, all three films take on the jungle, Coppola in Vietnam (well, actually the Philippines), Friedkin and Herzog in South America.

Herzog regular Klaus Kinski plays Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, called "Fitzcarraldo" by the Indians and Spanish around his jungle outpost in Iquitos, Peru where he runs an ice factory. A congenital dreamer already bankrupted attempting to build an Trans-Andean railway his newest scheme is to build an opera house in Iquitos and to bring Enrico Caruso and other opera greats to sing there. All this hinges upon him making his fortune in the rubber boom which in turn involves him in hauling a steamboat 1200 miles up the Amazon and across a mountain ridge from one tributary river to another.

Based on a true story, Kinski's historical original disassembled the boat but in Herzog's film Fitzcarraldo drag the boat up one very steep hill and down the other side in one piece. And, once again characteristically, this is exactly what Herzog did (there are no special effects, no models, no post-production tricks). The outcome, with the very non-Irish but made-for-the-role Kinski centre-stage, is cinematic madness at its best.

FYI: Jason Robards was originally cast as Fitzcarraldo with Mick Jagger as his offsider but he became unwell during filming and both actors were replaced. WIth Herzog giving the role ot Kinski after Jack Nicholson turned it down.  An account of Herzog's extraordinary three-and-a-half year production has been told in Les Blank's 1982 documentary Burden of Dreams.




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