Monday, February 24, 2014

Review: Woyzeck

Meet Franz Woyzeck.

You think YOU've got it bad? Try being Woyzeck for a day. He's a grunt in an indeterminate mid-1800s European army—I assume German, but he could be German-French in the same sense that most movie Romans are British-Roman. He's being cuckolded by his young wife (who looks like Jewel Staite with a crushed spirit) and the high-school-quarterback-like drum major. He's also a human guinea pig for an ambitious scientist who's been feeding him nothing but peas, and who rewards him with much-needed cash every time he behaves crazily.

Naturally, therefore, Woyzeck's descending into insanity, and just as naturally, there's no going back…since this is a Werner Herzog film.

Woyzeck's story is spare; the characterization, hazy. Much of the running-time is taken up by characters making Herzoggily bleak speeches with faraway looks in their eyes—mainly Kinski, whose inherent watchability helps reduce the tedium.

My favorite part? Definitely the opening credits. It's Kinski staring desperately while undergoing tortuous training, accompanied by this kick-ass music:

In terms of the protagonist's obvious thoughts and feelings, as well as the jarring yet strangely exciting sound, I was reminded of my brief stint in a meat-packing factory. This very memorable credits sequence earns Woyzeck half a star in my score. It makes the rest of the movie seem sedate, even lethargic.

Turns out the reason for that is that Woyzeck is originally a German stage play—and an unfinished one at that, which might explain the thin narrative. It's not that there's nothing here. The captain character obviously has a key role, conveying the theme of class discrimination; likewise, the Marie character carries a fair amount of dramatic weight, and her scenes are vague enough to remain intriguing. And the tone of the whole experience will be at least a little striking to any viewer who's ever asked themselves why the world is shitting so thoroughly upon them. It's just that what's here doesn't seem to engage as much as it could have.

Maybe Kinski just isn't likable enough for the role. Wikipedia tells me that Herzog originally intended for Bruno S. (of Stroszek, which I enjoyed much more) to play Woyzeck. Could Bruno have pulled off the crazy as convincingly as Kinski does? Probably not, but on the other hand, I may have empathized with him more.

Occasional draggy moments do not render Woyzeck unwatchable, unless you're somehow Herzog-allergic. That said, though, I wouldn't put it on a list of Top Must-See-Right-Now Herzog, like say Aguirre. Oh, that reminds me: Woyzeck does have a pooping animal. In case anybody wanted to know that.

Star Score: 3 out of 5

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