Another (overdue) first for me – my first Herzog film. A European adventurer in South America, Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski), aka Fitzcarraldo, rushes to see a performance by the great Caruso, rowing upstream with his lover Molly (Claudia Cardinale) so furiously that his hands bleed, and has to beg his way in. Fitz’s obsession is opera and his grand ambition is to open an opera house in his jungle village and bring Caruso for the opening performance.
Fitz is a dreamer, a profoundly unrealistic planner of grand projects and a laughing stock amongst the ruthless rubber robber barons who congregate in the brothel Molly runs. His last project, to run a steam railway into the jungle, lost vast amounts of money and he is taunted mercilessly about his talent to wreck fortunes. Seeing a map of the jungle plantations, Fitz has a grand new plan to find a route to an unclaimed plot of land, one that is supposedly impossible to reach, but Fitz has big ideas…
Buying a boat and heading off into headhunter territory with his ragtag crew, there is a sense of impending doom, a touch of “Heart of Darkness” about Fitz’s obsession and, as we see the outcome of his various projects, it becomes evident that his idealistic dreaming can cause problems as great as those of the coarse, vicious and greedy barons he despises (and they are pretty despicable). Encountering the unknowable and potentially lethal tribes of the interior, Fitz loses his crew but gains a new one as he attempts to drag his huge boat over a mountain.
With gorgeous cinematography and some amazing setpieces, this is a beautiful, impossible film with a beatiful, impossible hero – and Kinski is superb.