Cobra Verde

Werner Herzog's grand theme has long been the quixotic struggle of heroically deluded humans against the implacable powers of the natural world. In Cobra Verde, that unmanageable force of nature is undoubtedly Klaus Kinski. Playing a 19th-century Brazilian bandit named Francisco Manoel da Silva who's sent on a suicide mission to procure slaves from Africa, Kinski turns the old stereotype of civilized explorer versus savage native on its head, then decapitates it with a rusty machete.

Throughout the film, Kinski's body veers from silent stillness into sudden attacks of seemingly uncontrolled violence; half his dialogue consists of lower-brain shrieks and canine snarls, discharged through his eerily large and fishy jaws and framed by a whirling mane of unkempt tawny hair. After seeing the picture, it's easy to understand why this was Herzog's final collaboration with the actor (reportedly the director afterward claimed that Kinski had "become uncontrollable") but Kinski's performance nevertheless serves up a potent confusion of documentary and fiction that has long been an essential element of Herzog's filmmaking.

Kinski's character, however, is far from the film's only serving of astonishing insanity: Herzog depicts the 19th century as an insensibly violent era, with both Africans and Europeans given equal time for maniac brutality. - Ed Halter, Village Voice


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