La Soufrière: Waiting for an Unavoidable Catastrophe is a surreal journey to the limits of absurdity and human resistance. In August 1976, volcanic scientists believed that the Caribbean Island of Guadeloupe was to about to blow up with the explosive power of five or six atomic bombs. The entire town of 17,000 people was evacuated, except one peasant who refused to leave. And of course our intrepid Herzog and his brave cameramen Ed Lachman and Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. Faced with the whims of winds blowing toxic gas in their face, if the mountain exploded, within a five?mile radius there would be absolutely no escape. The crew climbs the volcano to stand leeward of a deep fissure pouring out poison fumes. Eerie shots of empty streets with blinking traffic lights left on in the hasty desertion, an abandoned police station, snakes committing mass suicide in the sea. In sulfurous spews as if from Hell, Herzog evokes Pompeii. A similar explosion on a near-by island in the early part of the 20th century had left 32,000 people dead. This is not a warning shot about our earth in peril, but homage to the power of nature over human nature. Under a tree, Herzog interviews the only remaining human: “Yes I am here waiting for death,” he says, “because it is God’s will. I haven’t the slightest fear. He takes everyone to his bosom, not just me, but everyone. Besides, where would I go?” In effect, we are all sitting on such a powder-keg. For Herzog, it is a bit embarrassing that this is a “report on an inevitable catastrophe which did not take place. It is a good job the film is missing its potentially violent climax. It really would have been absolutely ridiculous to be blown to pieces by a volcano with two colleagues while making a film.” —One World Film Festival
One of the most influential filmmakers in New German Cinema and one of the most extreme personalities in film, Werner Herzog quickly gained recognition not only for creating some of the most fantastic narratives in the Film history, but for pushing himself and his crew to absurd and unprecedented lengths, again and again, in order to achieve the effects he demanded. Born Werner Stipetic in Munich on September 5, 1942, Herzog came of age in Sachrang, Bavaria, amid extreme poverty and destitution. After Herzog turned seventeen, a German film producer optioned one of his screenplays, then promptly destroyed the contract when he discovered the author’s age. Circa 1962, 20-year-old Herzog enrolled in the University of Munich as a history and literature student, and produced his first motion picture, the twelve minute Herakles, his second short Game in the Sand, and his third, the pacifist tract The Unprecedented Defense of Fortress Deutschkreuz.In 1963, he established his own production… read more
The resistant peasant may be one of my favorite characters in cinema, and he's real.
***1/2. Good documentary of the first part of Herzog's career. The director secretly hopes that he will witness another Pompei but nothing happens. Yet, after 30 minutes, you'll be persuaded to have seen La Soufrière's eruption thanks to Herzog's prophetic voice and great sense of dramaturgy. Recommended.