Aguirre, the Wrath of God (Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes) (1972)
Director: Werner Herzog
I really love the care and passion Herzog brings to his work. He clearly loves film and cinema, and thoroughly respects its history. Aguirre was one of Herzog's early films, and while it is a bit rough in places, his skill and talent is clear. The film is thematically similar to Herzog's later film Fitzcarraldo, as it follows the hubris of man as he tries to conquer nature. This was Herzog's first collaboration with Klaus Kinski, a partnership that was as difficult as it was compelling to watch.
The journey down a river story is a common one in cinema history. Scenes and images from Herzog's film reminded me of Coppola's Apocalypse Now, and Joffe's The Mission (according to Wikipedia I am not the only one to make these connections!). The heavy threat of menace creates the tension in the film, and a lot of the fear is not knowing where the greatest threat comes from. Is it the native tribes who are naturally afeared of these conquistadors, from the group themselves, or the river?
While not exactly enjoyable, Aguirre is certainly striking, and the film's final image, though not inherently scary itself, is a wonderfully unsettling note of ambiguity.