If you have a dream, the only way to accomplish it is to face it head on. If your dream requires you to drag a massive boat up a mountainside, do it. So says director Werner Herzog in the bizarre but captivating Fitzcarraldo.
Klaus Kinski plays Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, or Fitzcarraldo as the Peruvian natives call him, an eccentric entrepreneur who dreams of building an extravagant opera house in the middle of the jungle. Like most extravagant things, money had to be raised. The source of the overhead was to come in the form of an emerging technology: rubber.
Fitzcarraldo buys his claim, sets out into the deep jungle by boat and soon discovers that his claim was only accessible by getting over a mountain. Without the means to transport the rubber trees he needed to make a fortune in rubber, Fitzcarraldo decided to move the mode of transportation. Hatching a scheme bigger than any jungle opera house, an idea is hatched that sent the transport boat out of the water and onto a mountain.
Although it’s odd to hear a story about taking a big boat over a mountain, in reality it had to happen for the film to happen. Fitzcarraldo is not a special effects extravaganza. It’s the opposite, shot straight on with reality in check. So for that to happen, a boat actually had to go up the mountain.
Considering Fitzcarraldo is a German/Peruvian film made outside of the Hollywood hustle and bustle, it is a notoriously well-known for its disastrous road to the screen. Much of the film had been shot already when previous stars Jason Robards and Mick Jagger were forced to drop out and have Kinski step in. That sent budgets overflowing and kept the heat on Herzog to keep going.
The parallels between the story in the film and the story of making the film are hard to ignore. Herzog is his own Fitzcarraldo, chasing a dream that in the end nobody will be able to appreciate the final product as much as the effort would have called for.
Fitzcarraldo is a beautiful film that is a moving experience. Kinski exudes an eccentric tension that makes the titular character both frightening and endearing at the same time. He makes Fitzcarraldo want his dream so bad that you almost overlook his take-no-prisoners attitude.
The parallels between life and reality in Fitzcarraldo are intriguing. So much so, that they in many ways overshadow the final product. While the real-life is in some ways more interesting, the film isn’t at all shabby either.