Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Land of Silence and Darkness

Fini Straubinger is, in some ways, the most Herzog-ian lead character in any of Werner Herzog's movies. She is not the obsessed, otherworldly driven Herzog character like Aguirre or Fitzcarraldo, but the kind like Bruno S from The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser and Stroszek. She is deaf and blind, a person who might be overlooked by most of society, but one who fascinates Herzog, and therefor us. Going blind at age 15, and deaf at 18, she's been in a sort of rest home most of her life, at one point bed ridden for a period of 30 years. Yet she seems perfectly capable when we meet her, and watch as she tries to help many people just like her. Her caretakers communicate with her through a kind of hand touching that feels like a cross between sign language and Morse code. Being that she wasn't born blind and deaf, she simply responds to their inquiries with words, though it made me wonder what it's like to not know whether or not people are listening.

Herzog tries to take us into Fini's mind as she navigates through the complicated manner of organizing a party for her fellow blind and deaf friends (who must all be accompanied by a translator, so "they don't accidentally end up stranded in the land of silence and darkness" says Fini). We see as Herzog takes Fini and her friend Juliet on an airplane, and the transcendent joy on Juliet's face would warm the coldest of hearts. We also watch as Fini tries to help others, some who communicate and others who don't. We also get a look into the world of those born blind-deaf, and so have no reference point for much of life. Think of what a shower would feel like if you had no concept of water and why it is pouring onto you.

It's a thought provoking movie, with occasionally the wonderful poetic images Herzog always gives us. The last shot in particular is extraordinary. Narratively, though, I found it a bit slow moving and it felt structure-less. Not that we need to know where we're going, especially in the hands of a master like Herzog, but it made for a slow moving watch, even though the movie is a shade under 90 minutes. I would've actually preferred the Herzog of today narrating us through the many philosophical questions this movie provokes, but this was one of his first movies, made even before his international breakout of Aguirre, the Wrath of God in 1973. Still, it's a worthy and occasionally fascinating movie, even if I don't rank it among the best from Herzog.

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