Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Cobra Verde (3½ Stars)

The Africans believe that the Devil is white.

Many people call Klaus Kinski the best actor who has ever lived. I don't share this opinion, but I can understand it. He's certainly the most intense actor who has ever lived. Whenever he walks into a scene his face is so powerful that it intimidates the viewer. He could be accused of over-acting, but this is because we live in an age when under-acting has become the norm. What I mean is that he was born in the wrong age. He belongs in the time of the silent movies, when actors used their facial expressions to tell the viewer what they were thinking. Klaus Kinski is probably the last true master of this art.

The film is based on a novel by Bruce Chatwin, "The Viceroy of Ouidah". It's about the rise and fall of Francisco Manoel da Silva. As a young man in Brazil he becomes the country's most feared bandit, known as Cobra Verde (the green snake). He is known for walking barefoot rather than riding a horse. When he walks into a town everyone flees. As successful as he is as a bandit, he feels the need to find a new life. When he's told that he can find God in the west, he walks east. He is hired to oversee the slaves on a large sugar plantation, but he falls into disgrace when he gets all three of the owner's daughters pregnant.

Rather than kill him, the owner arranges for Francisco to be sent on what he considers a suicide mission. He is sent to West Africa to acquire new slaves from the Kingdom of Dahomey, where the mad king has killed all the previous slave traders. Francisco fearlessly wades to the shore alone, refusing to be accompanied by soldiers, and takes an abandoned castle as his residence. He trains the local women to fight, and he overthrows the king with an army of bare-breasted warrior women. He lives in luxury until 1888, the year when Brazil abolishes slavery. Without being able to trade slaves he has no more income, and he's declared a criminal by many countries.

The film is visually beautiful, but has a depressing atmosphere throughout. The soundtrack is by Florian Fricke, who also wrote the music for other films directed by Werner Herzog.

Is the Devil white? Yes. And he looks like Klaus Kinski.

Klaus Kinski
18 October 1926 – 23 November 1991

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