Werner Herzog is a name that both excites and repels me, at least until now, as then I found myself hot and cold with his works, with Cobra Verde being an enormous disappointment and Grizzly Man as a faultless piece of cinema. It was embedded into my mind that possibly as a storyteller of fiction that possibly Herzog is at his weakest, but I decided to restrict myself from such opinions during my entrance of Fitzcarraldo, instilling a sense of hope that what would come ahead of me would be far from disappointing. Fortunately, such effort has brought fruitful results as my faith on Herzog has been restored as he takes me on a journey of a man’s rise to such great ambition, almost consumed to the point of fault, and penetrates the concept of the indigenous.
Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald is the formal name given to our protagonist, but Fitzcarraldo simply has a more flourish ring to it, and we travel along with him as he enters into the scene with overwhelming haste and desperation, needing to see an opera performance from his most beloved idol; slowly the film progresses and we learn of his intentions, to build an opera house within his beloved residence of Iquitos, surrounded by trailing waters and deep forests, but to achieve such a feat, he is required to ensure success in maintaining profit, a source that initially led with an ice business, but would eventually change his course to rubber, since he stumbles upon uncharted territories of deep forests that is currently unexploited. This becomes ambition piling onto one another, a man who devotes his life, and even to great lengths of being separated from his beloved wife, in hopes to reach his dream, to find success far more than his peers could ever reach.
It is nature that stands in his way, as natural construction of the river has forced him to take such great measures in meeting his goals, and along his journey finds himself among Indigenous inhabitants, whom which views Fitzcarraldo’s arrival with his grand boat as a sign of salvation, a concept that is left ambiguous due to a communication barrier, a method of remaining close to the protagonist’s perspective, but also authentic of its approach in depicting such a world. It is in the titular figure’s relationship with the local natives that he is forced upon to capitalise in their ignorance and naivety, utilising his position in forwarding his cause, a necessary act that transports his boat over a steep mountain, to ensure his safe passage to his destination.
The film parallels the honest conditions and exploitation of the desperate and naïve individuals of third world countries, with the arrival of Europeans in hopes to fool them with such a gracious rewards, when in matter of fact that their trading is highly uneven and in favour of the cynical Caucasians. The film certainly keeps its premise of Fitzcarraldo’s mission on its foreground, and through this it becomes entertaining, but in utilising this approach, Herzog manages to maintain a sense of profoundness and penetrative quality in his journey; as an audience we are able to view his journey with a concise perspective, but the experience is far from it as the titular character itself becomes more than just a hollow vessel that pushes its plot along, complexity enters and we find ourselves gripped and fascinated.
I am sure that in the future, whenever that may be, I find myself back in Fitzcarraldo’s journey, it is guaranteed that the experience would provide more rewards, one that would certainly blur out the sections that I refer to as flaws, which by the way I find heard to pin down and thus my lack of criticism towards the film, but as of now it is undoubtedly not perfect.