Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Cobra Verde


Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 1/23/07 w/ Additional Edits.


Five years after the brilliant Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog reunites with actor Klaus Kinski for another film about a flamboyant 19th Century Brazilian bandit who is sent on an impossible mission to Africa to re-open a slave trade only to realize he is in a trap. The film was called Corba Verde with Kinski playing the title role written and directed by Herzog, based on Bruce Chatwin's 1980 novel The Viceroy of Ouidah. The fifth and final collaboration they made, it is considered the weakest film they made, particularly to Herzog himself. Also starring King Ampaw, Jose Lewgoy, Salvatore Basile, Peter Berling, and His Royal Highness, Nana Agyefi Kwame II of Nsein. Cobra Verde, despite some moments is an enchanting yet frustrating film marking the final collaboration between Herzog and Kinski.

After walking through a desert after killing a mining boss, Francisco Manoel da Silva aka Cobra Verde walks through the desert barefoot as he enters into a town where he's a known bandit. After entering a restaurant, he meets an eccentric bartender where he continues on his journey where upon stumbling into another town, he sees a slave trying to escape only to run into his presence. Impressed by his appearance and fearless personality, a sugar plantation owner named Don Octavio Coutinho (Jose Lewgoy) decides to hire da Silva as his new plantation manager. What Coutinho doesn't realize is that da Silva is Cobra Verde where after impregnating all his three daughters, da Silva reveals himself as Cobra Verde. Realizing the trouble he's in, Coutinho and Captain Fraternidade (Salvatore Basile) decides to send da Silva on a mock-mission to go to Elmina, West Africa to re-open the slave trade claiming he needs more slave for his growing plantation.

Cobra Verde along with Captain Pedro Vincente (Benito Stefanelli) go by ship to the West African coast to find an old, abandoned fort where they meet a tribe and a priest (Peter Berling) along with a former drum major named Taparica (King Ampaw). After getting rid of the priest, Cobra Verde does the impossible in restoring the fort and re-opening the slave trade with the fort where he believes that ships are coming to load up the slaves. Unfortunately, Verde and Taparica are suddenly captured by a group of tribesmen to the land of Abomey, House of the Kings where they meet the lavish King Bossa Ahadee (Nana Agyefi Kwame II of Nsein). Believing that Cobra Verde is the devil because he's white, he hopes to execute him but a revolt in the King's nephew with a group of tribesmen as Cobra Verde and Taparica decide to help out the nephew.

Organizing a large group of women as an army, Cobra Verde succeeds in overthrowing the king where he becomes Viceroy. With the help of the new king, he believes that he has a chance to re-open the slave trade as Vincente returns. Just as things seem to go good, changing times and the realization that he was part of a scheme forced Cobra Verde to make an escape where he eventually meets his doom.

While the story of Cobra Verde is interesting, there's seem to be something off-guard in what Herzog wanted to say. Yet, whereas in Fitzcarraldo five years before, Herzog told the story of a dreamer. Here in this film, he tells the story of a mad, intimidating bandit who ends up not fitting in into any kind of world where he meets his own doom. While there's some great scenes in the film, there are parts where instead of exploiting some kind of land or a group of people. Herzog is really exploiting Kinski at some very humilating moments where it's like he's either having fun with him or is trying to punish him. Then there's some parts of the directing where Herzog isn't sure what to do and his script really falls by the wayside in thinking where he's forced to shoot Kinski at the moment and nothing genuine is coming out. Still, there's some great moments in the film, particularly the ending that really represents a lot of irony in comparison to Fitzcarraldo in its idea of dragging a ship on top of a mountain. Yet, in some respects, I think Herzog was trying to make the ending as a way to reveal how far his collaboration with Kinski.

The cinematography of Viktor Ruzicka is wonderfully exquisite with its shadows of sunlight of some of the film's interior settings in the West African scenes while the exteriors in Africa and Brazil are wonderfully shot. The editing by Maximiliane Mainka has some good moments but in some of the film's opening scenes are very spotty while a few other scenes are slowed down pretty badly. Production designer Ulrich Bergfelder does some excellent work in re-creating the 19th Century plantation of Coutinho while costume designer Gisela Storch does great work in the clothing of the Brazilian women and the colors of the clothes in Africa. Sound editors Friedrich M. Dosch and Hans Zeiler do great work in capturing the atmosphere of the sound and the music of Africa. Longtime composers Popol Vuh bring the same, haunting operatic score that isn't as memorable other scores.

The casting is interesting where standout performances from King Ampaw and Benito Stefanelli are good while Nana Agyefi Kwame II of Nsein is excellent as the King. Jose Lewgoy is pretty good as the plantation owner while minor performances like Salvatore Basile as the Don's captain was underused and Peter Berling is wasted as a priest. Then, we have Klaus Kinski in what is really an uneven performance. There's time where Kinski can be restrained in this intimidating presence yet there's not enough to reveal in why he's this crazed bandit. At times when he goes nuts, it's exciting but at other times, it's over-the-top where the audience isn't sure if he's acting or not. It's a performance that's disappointing comparing to his other work with Herzog while it's also has a sense of awareness that he seems tired and burned out. Despite a few uninspiring moments, it's a decent performance from Kinski.

***Additional DVD Content Written & Posted on 1/30/07 w/ Additional Edits***

The Region 1 DVD from the 2000 Herzog-Kinski box set from Anchor Bay presents the film in a different widescreen presentation of 1:77:1 ration for 16x9 TVs with 5.1 Dolby Surround Sound in German and Mono for English plus English subtitles. With special features including talent bios for Kinski and Herzog and a theatrical trailer, there's also another commentary track from Herzog and Norman Hill. This time around, Herzog reveals the frustration of making the film with Kinski. The film's original cinematographer Thomas Mauch, who shot Aguirre and Fitzcarraldo, quit after five days due to Kinski's behavior where Herzog admits, letting him go was one of the worst things he's done. While Herzog watches and enjoys a few moments, most of the time, he seems troubled in watching the film since he admits, it's not one of his favorites. He was inspired to do the film because of novelist Bruce Chatwin where Herzog did another film, 1984's Where the Green Ants Dream, that was inspired by Chatwin. Though Herzog admits in trying to be faithful to Chatwin, who did like the film in the end before his death in 1989, Herzog still admits frustration largely due to Kinski. 

Mentioned the commentary and accompanying essay by Jim Knipfel, Kinski was on the verge of making a film about Paganini which Kinski wrote, directed, and starred in and originally wanted Herzog to direct it. Herzog talks about Kinski bringing an atmosphere that really disturbed him and the film's final scene was the last thing they shot as Herzog comments that by this point, it was over and he wanted to work with Kinski no more. On November 23, 1991, Klaus Kinski died of a heart attack in Northern California at the age of 65.

***End of DVD Tidbits

Despite some wonderful moments and some bad, uninspiring moments, Cobra Verde is still a decent and at times, entertaining film from Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski. While it's something more for completists of Herzog and Kinski, it's got moments where audiences can exciting yet there's moments where audiences will wonder what's going on. Despite that it's unfocused and frustrating at times, Cobra Verde is still worth watching just for the fact that it's the last Herzog-Kinski film.

Werner Herzog Films: Feature Films: (Signs of Life) - (Even the Dwarfs Started Small) - (Fatana Morgana) - Aguirre, the Wrath of God - (The Enigma of Kasper Hauer) - (Heart of Glass) - (Stroszek) - Nosferatu, the Vampire - Woyzeck - Fitzcarraldo - (Where the Green Ants Dream) - (Scream of Stone) - (Lessons of Darkness) - (Invincible (2001 film)) - (The Wild Blue Yonder) - Rescue Dawn - (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) - (My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?)

Documentaries: (The Flying Doctors of East Africa) - (Handicapped Future) - (Land of Silence and Darkness) - (The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner) - (How Much Wood Would a Woodchuck Chuck) - (La Soufri̬re) - (Huie's Sermon) - (God's Angry Man) - (Ballad of the Little Soldier) - (The Dark Glow of the Mountains) - (Wodaabe РHerdsmen of the Sun) - (Echoes from a Somber Empire) - (Jag Mandir) - (Bells from the Deep) - (The Transformation of the World into Music) - (Death for Five Voices) - (Little Dieter Needs to Fly) - My Best Fiend - (Wings of Hope) - (Pilgrimage) - (Ten Thousand Years Older) - (Wheel of Time) - (The White Diamond) - Grizzly Man - Encounters at the End of the World - Cave of Forgotten Dreams - (Into the Abyss) - (On Death Row) - From One Second to the Next

(C) thevoid99 2012

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