Review by Michael Jacobson
Kinski, King Ampaw, Jose Lewgoy, Salvatore Basile, Peter Berling
Director: Werner Herzog
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 1:77:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Studio: Anchor Bay
Features: Commentary Track, Theatrical Trailer, Talent Files
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: October 24, 2000
Cobra Verde marked the last of the five
collaborations between German director Werner Herzog and star Klaus Kinski, and
in many ways, it has the appearance of two talents going for broke, as though
they somehow knew it would be their last shared hurrah.
The resulting film is striking and powerful.
It lacks the hypnotic, unsettling quality of Aguirre or strong
character motivation of Fitzcarraldo, but it still manages to pack a
potent punch with Herzog’s fantastic sense of visual style and Kinski’s
ferocious performance, which may be the most passionate and unrestrained in his
long history of acting in that mode.
He plays Francisco Manoel de Silva, who comes to be known
as the bandit Cobra Verde. Who is
this man and what is he about? Unlike
their previous films, Herzog and Kinski left the characterizations a little
unclear. We first see the man as
the camera focuses in tightly on his red, weeping eyes.
A slow pullback reveals he is squatting before a makeshift cross in a
graveyard. Dead and dying animals
are all around: it reminds one of
the final shot in Aguirre. Death
surrounds the man. We don’t know
Soon, we see de Silva in action, working in a gold mine.
He screams that he has been cheated by his foreman, and in the next
scene, which is completely dark, we see him light a fire just long enough to
wake up his boss: “I wanted you
to be awake when you died,” he tells him.
The scene goes dark, and we know that Cobra Verde has murdered.
He is later hired by a rather uncouth sugar plantation
owner to be overseer to his slaves. De
Silva watches expressionless as his new employer mistreats and even sexually
accosts his servants, bragging about the number of mulatto children he has
fathered by the slave women. It’s
a game to him. It becomes even less
of one later when he realizes that de Silva has played his own version:
he has impregnated all of the owner’s own daughters.
Wanting revenge but fearful of Cobra Verde, he devises a
plan to send him to Africa to re-open the slave trade.
He sets off across the ocean, and thus, the familiar Herzog theme finally
comes into play: ‘civilized’
man entering into beautiful ‘primitive’ territory, becoming filled with
delusions of power, only to eventually be destroyed by his environment because
he never paid it proper respect.
De Silva soon finds himself taken prisoner by a mad African
king, who intends to put him to death. However,
a rival tribe soon kidnaps him back, and offers him a seat of power if he will
help lead their tribe in a battle against the king.
He agrees, provided that he receive complete control of the slave trade
What follows are some of the film’s most remarkable
sequences, where Cobra Verde trains the hundreds of men and women to do the
fighting. When he leads them in
their charge, Kinski is at his most remarkable and unrestrained.
But one simply cannot exist off the misery of others.
All of Herzog’s characters eventually learn this, and Cobra Verde is no
exception. The slave trade is dying
out, and he holds on to the last remnants of it as tightly as he can, but he
senses the end. His partners in
commerce have been cheating him. Those
whom he once helped protect are growing less enthused with him as he marches
them one by one into slavery. One
remarkable shot has the camera looking up high through the opening of a well as
de Silva and his customer look down. The
point of view eventually switches to show an incredible mass of humanity
squeezed together at the bottom of the well:
de Silva’s ‘product’. “Who
are they?” the customer asks. “Our
future murderers,” de Silva answers, with a sense of knowing.
In the end, Cobra Verde is a lost man.
The final visuals of him struggling to return his boat to the water with
no avail, and eventually collapsing into the ocean as the waves ravage him, say
more about the man than any ten pages of exposition.
Pride and contempt turned de Silva into Cobra Verde, but the land and
people he sought to conquer turned Cobra Verde back into dust.
The on-set conflicts between Herzog and Kinski have become
the stuff of legend. This film,
however, marks the only time Kinski ever seriously threatened the director,
according to Herzog. Apparently, at
one point, Kinski grabbed a big rock in his fist and came close to using it.
Still, Herzog readily admits that he both loves and misses his old
comrade in arms, even the fighting. He
rightly points out that the end result on the screen was all that mattered, and
their legacy of five films that began with Aguirre and ended with Cobra
Verde stand as lingering cinematic landmarks and testimonials to the two
men’s creative brilliance despite the frequent hostilities of their working
Anchor Bay has delivered quality transfers for all of the
Herzog/Kinski films, but this one is by far their crowning achievement.
This is a gorgeous picture from beginning to end, and it renders here
without a noticeable flaw. Images are sharp and crisp throughout, with excellent detail,
even in the many deep focus shots. Colors
are natural looking and bright, too, without any instance of bleeding or
distortion. I noticed no grain,
noise, shimmer, haze or any other form of compression artifact, and the print
itself is remarkably free of dirt or scratches. This is a reference quality disc, and one of the best looking
transfers I’ve seen for a film from the 80’s.
You have a choice of 5.1 or 2.0 surrounds if you listen to
the film in German (or a 2.0 English track if you prefer).
I personally liked the 5.1 track a lot.
For starters, it opened up the field of audio a lot more, giving it more
range and more spatial room. Plus,
the rear channels deliver a good bit of ambient sound to the mix.
You’ll notice this especially when the film first shifts to Africa:
the sound of the waves crashing comes alive from every corner.
I didn’t notice much use of the .1 channel, but there wasn’t an
abundance of bottom end to the soundtrack. Dialogue
is clean and clear, and the music by Popol Vol sounds terrific as well.
All in all, a decidedly good remix effort from Anchor Bay.
The disc contains a trailer with several viewing options
(English or German? Subtitles or
no?), plus talent files on Kinski and Herzog and a commentary track with the
director. It’s an interesting
one, being that this film was his last with Kinski.
He offers plenty of retrospective regarding their work together.
Cobra Verde is a powerful film that marks a fitting close to one of cinema’s most infamous partnerships. Neither Werner Herzog nor Klaus Kinski seemed to hold anything back in their final film together, and the end results are striking. Fans will definitely be pleased with both the movie and this outstanding quality presentation on DVD by Anchor Bay.