Monday, September 7, 2015


Werner Herzog is unlike any other filmmaker. His movies couldn't have been made by anyone else, so singular of an artist is he. 1977's Stroszek is one of the odder movies of his I've seen. Roger Ebert described it as "one of the oddest films ever made", but it's not THAT weird. He goes on to use the word I'd use to describe the movie, which is peculiar. It's not "quirky", it may be eccentric, but peculiar feels right. Much of that credit goes to the movie's star, Bruno S, a former mental patient with whom Herzog made 2 movies, this and 1974's The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, which I haven't seen. Bruno gives an extraordinary performance of great focus and intensity, playing a man for whom the world may be a little overwhelming.
Herzog, not from the movie
We start off in Berlin, with Bruno getting out of a kind of mental institution (there's a lot of autobiography to his character), promising the warden he'll not touch a drop of alcohol again, and while carrying all of his possessions before he even gets home, stopping at a bar for a beer. Bruno isn't an alcoholic, and that's not what this movie is about. It's just kind of a funny little thing. He hooks up with prostitute Eva (Eva Mattes), who after evading her abusive pimps and along with friend and neighbor Mr. Sheitz (Clemens Sheitz) moves away from the troubled world of Berlin and to Sheitz's nephew's place in Wisconsin. The movie follows them as they come up against the expected language issues present to immigrants (though helped by Eva's English speaking ability) and also against the facts that maybe America isn't any easier of a place to live than Berlin was. "In Berlin they physically kick you down. Here, they do it to your spirit, and that's worse" Bruno says to Eva.

There are a lot of metaphors and themes and issues you could look at if you wanted to, Herzog's movies never hurt for their ability to be read into. There were the usual Herzog striking images, whether the rising buildings above Bruno as he plays his accordion in the streets, Bruno standing watching the empty lot where his mobile home used to be, or a doctor cradling a prematurely born baby as Bruno looks on with a look of intense and impenetrable depth.

Herzog has said that despite Bruno's past (being in mental asylum's from 3-26) Bruno wasn't mentally ill, and he certainly doesn't appear to be here. He seems peculiar, but not "weird". He seems particular. There was only one of this guy made, and he's infinitely fascinating to watch. There's a laser like focus to his every movement and look, he's completely magnetic to look at. I really liked this movie a lot, mostly because of Bruno and Herzog's particular brand of Herzog-ness. I feel like The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser must be added to the list of this foreign film quest because I want to see what else these two did together.

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