Werner Herzog – Fata Morgana (1971)


Info from wiki,

Fata Morgana is a film by Werner Herzog, shot in 1969, which captures mirages in the desert. Herzog describes the film as “a documentary shot by extraterrestrials from the Andromeda Nebula, and left behind.” The only spoken words consist of a recitation of the Mayan creation myth (the Popul Vuh) by Lotte Eisner, and text written and recited by Herzog himself.

The critic David Thomson describes Fata Morgana as “extraordinary”: “[The] desert is a model for mankind. The film is in three sections: the first showing an unpeopled, beautiful wasteland; the second introducing signs of human wreckage; and the third showing wretched vestiges of life. Totally imaginative, it is a legend of life at extremes that exposes the fatuity of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Whereas Stanley Kubrick glibly assumes some all-powerful, riddle-making consciousness behind the universe, Herzog’s creator is as fallible, quirky and uncertain as man himself.”

From IMDB (user review):

Successful films on metaphysical subjects are rare, but Fata Morgana is a good case. You can chalk up the large subject to the ambitions of youth, but Herzog does an amazingly good job. The movie’s point is to show human beings, and even the world, from a non-human point of view.

The movie is in three parts: Creation, Paradise, and The Golden Age. The imagery of each is in counterpoint to the voice-over. Although the text of `The Creation’ (from the Popol Vuh, a Mayan myth) refers to the primordial wasteland, the scene goes no further in illustrating the myth. It dwells on the waste, and on various specimens of destruction (fire, smoke, wrecked vehicles). The images from `Paradise’ are anything but that, and `The Golden Age’ is darkly comic – the highest culture is the strange roadside musical act.

The Popol Vuh suggests that mankind is the central object of creation, but the movie does everything it can to undo this notion. Its mythological framework has no referent in human historical time. There are no human characters to speak of. When a boy stands with a dog in an extended shot, the initial suggestion is of the boy’s point of view; by the end it is much more the dog’s. Likewise the lizard is a stronger character than the human who introduces it, and the turtle’s partner barely looks human with his big flippers.

Animal stories and nature documentaries always anthropomorphize, but Fata Morgana has none of that. Certainly the dunes look like a female body, but the simile cuts both ways. Presumably only humans can distinguish easily between their creation and nature, and here airplanes and factories are presented alongside mountains, lakes, and waterfalls. People and civilization are all part of a broader natural landscape.


Language(s):german / directors commentary (english) / english (dubbed)
Subtitles:english (srt)

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