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FITZCARRALDO will remain legendary for it’s meta-quixotic setpiece, the transport of a steamship up, across, and down a mountain that its director, Werner Herzog, insisted should actually be done. For the title character, the task would serve to build a great opera house. For the filmmaker, a great film.

It begins with a religious warning that the jungle in which it takes place was left unfinished by God during creation and it will be finished only after the end of mankind. With the stakes out of the way, the misty treetops give way to a grand theatre and the story commences. The title character is an failed railroad baron and Enrico Caruso (Stan-level) admirer, Brian Feeney Fitzgerald a.k.a. Fitzcarraldo (Klaus Kinski being Klaus Kinski) living in Peru. He aspires to build for Caruso an opera house that would match the beauty and spectacle of his singing. This is an expensive endeavor, and for the money, he would throw his hands into the fire of the industry of the day, rubber, which he must first find and acquire. This engenders his attempted conquest of nature. With financial aid from his lover, Molly (Claudia Cardinale), he buys a boat (yes, that boat) and recruits a crew.

Then comes the journey. What follows functions like a typical catalogue of a descent into madness, with the crucial difference being that Fitzcarraldo is already mad. We first see him smeared in oil and sweat with crazed eyes and an atypically extreme case of bedhead. Then, we are told he tried and failed to build a railroad across the Andes Mountains. His ideas are elephantine monsters that consistently threaten to swallow him whole, but he has already made it out unscathed. That’s just the kind of man he is.

With this history, his Herculean effort is transmuted from hellish to purgatorial. He seems doomed to expend effort on failed projects, but free to do so as well. He is a man who takes on bold endeavors that, because of their impracticality, will come up short. He, judging by exposition, always has been. He, judging by the rest of the film, will continue to be.

FITZCARRALDO (1982) Dir. Werner Herzog [157 min.]
Monday 6/9, 7:00 PM

Goethe-Institut Boston
170 Beacon Street
Boston, MA 02116

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