Director Werner Herzog’s brilliant black comedy of a Spanish expedition searching for El Dorado, the legendary lost city of gold, is the film that made an international star of Klaus Kinski. He plays Aguirre, a soldier who takes advantage of the New World’s hardships and confusions to grasp power for himself. Herzog’s genius in this visionary cautionary tale is to have made an adventure epic while simultaneously debunking the genre with his weird, deadpan humor. Shot in Peru amid the swirling mist of the Andes and the churning waters of the Amazon, the film is stunning to behold: a gorgeous oil painting in perpetual motion.
Unfortunately, the iconoclastic Herzog seems to have been hopelessly stymied when he shifted his sights to Woyzeck, based on Georg Buchner’s play about a common soldier (Kinski) driven to stabbing his wife (Eva Mattes). It’s a fairly faithful record of Buchner, and Kinski puts his Cubist facial mannerisms to work. But Woyzeck sorely lacks exactly what Aguirre has — inspiration to burn. Aguirre: A Woyzeck: C-