Saturday 19 May 2007

Woyzeck (1979) Werner Herzog

'In a small town on a small pond...' Klaus Kinski appears in the third of his five collaborations with filmmaker Werner Herzog. It's dated 1976 but released in 1979, just after Nosferatu the Vampyre. This time he's a soldier, tormented by everyone it seems, starting with his drill sergeant or whoever is abusing him while he runs and squats and does press ups, all on his own as if it were some sort of punishment. Being completely hatstand yet with some vestige of control, Klaus Kinski is perfect once more as the victim, who is described aptly by his wife as 'absent'.

However it's more than Kinski just being right for the part. Herzog took advantage of his exhaustion after Nosferatu by starting filming on Woyzeck only a week after he'd finished the previous film, completing the entire thing in eighteen days and shooting it like a play. There are only 27 cuts in 82 minutes, just over one every three minutes, which is almost unheard of. Then again, the approach makes sense as the story is from a play by Georg B├╝chner.

Kinski is marvellous here, clinging to fragments of sanity under both mental and physical abuse, though for some bizarre reason it's Eva Mattes who won an award for the film: Best Actress at Cannes. She plays Woyzeck's wife who nonetheless cheats on him regularly and even calls herself a whore. She has doubts about what she does and provides herself with plenty of inner torment, but it's all her own doing. Woyzeck is abused by his drill sergeant, insulted by his captain and maltreated by a doctor played by an actor who reminds me of Roman Polanski but has the wonderful name of Willy Semmelrogge.

The doctor has been performing medical experiments on him. He's fed him only peas for a year, doing who knows what to his chemical balance, yet throws cats out of windows at him and berates him for answering the call of nature. Woyzeck doesn't really know if he's coming or going, seemingly distracted most of the time yet snapping to attention whenever he's shouted at. He raves on about things and enters and leaves scenes as if at random.

Like he did in Nosferatu, he doesn't seem to be inhabiting the same film as everyone else, but he does so in a different way. In Nosferatu he had a sort of elegaic sorrow to reflect his character's centuries of isolation but here he's just a victim, not really having a clue what happens around him, and he looks both ill and tortured at the same time. There are scenes, like the one after the murder, where he does almost nothing for what seems like forever but he's just mesmerising. I'm at a loss to explain the point of it all, but Kinski is enough to watch it for. I'll watch it again just to see if I was dreaming.

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