Woyzeck (Werner Herzog / West Germany, 1979):

Büchner’s cosmic crack-up, a little case of aberratio mentalis partialis frozen and analyzed as a string of charged Rembrandt superfices. "Running through creation like a razor. You will cut someone!" The town's fairgrounds and pointed rooftops are out of a storybook, yet Woyzeck (Klaus Kinski) with his ear to the ground hears only frightful sounds, the groans of a relentless fate. Obedient grunt and hapless scientific experiment, a grimacing skull atop rumpled fatigues, he subsists on a strict diet of peas and existential dread. (Lost in lugubrious thought, he stands in place at an angle until military orders snap him into a vertical ramrod.) His wife (Eva Mattes) likes a man in uniform, the solitary joys in life are lost to suspicion and madness, Werner Herzog captures it all in dispassionate long takes. "If we ever got to Heaven, they'd make us work the thunder." "You're philosophizing again, Woyzeck." Monkeys wear lordly robes, cats are thrown out of windows and barflies wax philosophical on top of tables, yet the greatest distortions flow from the strain of working-class exploitation, a Trauerspiel reshaping of Othello. The lumpenprole's state of mind is a tangle of torment coolly registered, the camera's frontal distance has its own pale-fire approach to Büchner’s fragmented expressionism. The undercranking of the opening drill is answered by the slow-motion excruciation of the climactic murder, the cuckold's interminable stabbing (a sticky detail finds a bee or two leisurely zigzagging across the infernal composition) yields to dazed stumbling on the dance floor. "Ist das Nein am Ja oder das Ja am Nein schuld?" Tenebrous mist rolls over the verdant pond for the "ripe stool in the world's straining anus" (Osborne's Luther), a pivotal formation for Kubrick (Full Metal Jacket) and Van Sant (Last Days). With Wolfgang Reichmann, Willy Semmelrogge, Josef Bierbichler, and Irm Hermann.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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