This is an incredibly credible film about the life of Dieter Dengler who fulfilled his life dream of becoming a fighter pilot, a dream which was shattered only a few days into his first tour of duty during the American War against Vietnam as he was shot down over Laos. For a large part of the film Herzog takes his friend Dieter back to the jungle, who re-recreates for the camera his harrowing times when he spent six months as a tortured prisoner of war. We witness Dengler’s subsequent escape with a friend into the jungle, and flea with him on an epic journey where starvation loomed in every shadow. It is a dramatic tale where death hangs in every moment, on every path, in every tree and waterfall. With freedom only a breath away, Dieter relates how once discovered by a village militia, he had to witness his friend’s brutal death. Dengler was eventually rescued, pulled out of the jungle by a helicopter in 1966 and awarded America’s Purple Heart for bravery. “It wasn’t death,” he says, “It was the angels who steered the horses. Death really didn’t want me.” All the “facts” in Little Dieter are real and authentic, but “reality” is often re-orchestrated and rehearsed. In trademark Herzogian stylization Dieter plays himself. The imagery itself is not graphic, but the storytelling is imaginative, compelling, and dramatic. This is a film about transcending misery, despite the despicable things that humans do to each other. This is a film about what human Will can overcome. Reminding us of Greek tragedy, Dieter’s story is that of a man, his dreams, and redemption. In the Book of Revelation it says: “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it, and death shall flee from them.” The final scene was shot at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, which is an airplane graveyard where literally thousands of mothballed, forgotten old aircraft recede into infinity. It is in this cemetery, one hopes, that all such war machines, and war-induced tragedy might soon find itself buried. —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
Well-made, very well-made. But there's something reserved about it compared to other Herzog films, and I'm not sure why. Maybe it's Dieter's own eerie self-control reflected in the film. It's a harrowing story but it feels unreal somehow. Reassuring proof, perhaps, that truth is not always stranger than fiction.
Extraordinary things happening to ordinary people are remarkably common, but Dengler is an extraordinary man revealed through extraordinary circumstances. Although molded by adversity, he wasn't broken or corrupted by it; in a similar way, Herzog's creative "collaborations" with the narrative don't affect the essence of wide-eyed Little Dieter. Fly on, Little Dieter...