Generally considered one of Herzog’s masterpiece “documentaries,” this is a tough, moving and intense film about language, communication, understanding, and human loneliness. The subject is 56-year-old Fini Straubinger, blind and deaf since she was young, who works as an activist to liberate other “comrades in fate.” Herzog directs this observational “document” with a generous, open and human heart, taking us on an emotional journey to a “land of silence and darkness” we cannot even imagine. This is a genuinely experiential and existential film, allowing us to cross over. Shot sparingly, the camera breathes in unison with Fini. Whether images are of her teaching others to “talk tactile” through a series of mapped out hand signals, or discovering the feel of cactus in an arboretum, the film swims with empathy. With memorable images of institutionalized women staring into the camera or an unforgettably touching, dramatic scene where a man embraces a tree, we begin to see life again. It takes courage to make a film which does not sentimentalize, nor glorify the plight of the “the disabled.” This is a film about sorrow and rejection but also a signal of hope. In a trip to the zoo Fini and her group interact with elephants and various animals – including a monkey who reaches out to Herzog’s camera in a gesture questioning the cinematic gaze. It is a film reminiscent of the Indian parable of the blind men and the elephant, where each “sees” what they wish to see. Herzog and Fini teach us to see again. —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
It feels odd that it only took one single movement, when the camera deviates from the women's chat to the deaf-mute man "recognizing" the tree, to make me feel deeply moved. I just watched that scene, and yet I have to thank to Herzog, for he gave me the opportunity to experience the kind of cinema where perception proceeds from the suppression of senses, clearing the way for a genuine, superior, sensorial system.
The visit with Heinrich, the fifty one year old institutionalized deaf blind man who, rejected by human society, went to live with a herd of cows for a time, that ends the film is almost impossible to bear. Rarely if ever has solitude been captured with such subtle yet visceral force. You feel it in your bones.
The scene where the camera stays on the manchild, watching him for several minutes, is a landmark of cinema. Nothing is like it, or will be. My favorite Herzog documentary, and maybe my favorite Herzog.