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Werner Herzog and Into the Abyss – September 8

September 9, 2011

I attended my first film of the Festival last night and… well I left early. I left Werner’s last documentary last year Cave of Forgotten Dreams (see last year’s reviews)as well. I clearly have a love/hate relationship with this guy. I loved The Bad Lieutenant and Encounters at the End of the World but I really disliked this movie, the Cave and My Son, My Son, What have you done? The last two were at TIFF last year along with the Bad Lieutenant. Not sure what it is but I may not be able to stay away from his next film just in case it’s good.

Meanwhile last night we saw the premiere of his newest film at the Ryerson Theatre which is huge and was jammed with Herzogies. The man was there and got a standing ovation even before the film screened. The movie is a documentary about two men who commit three brutal murders just to steal a car for a joy ride. One is given a 40 year sentence and the other is on death row and is interviewed just a week before he will be executed. It is all set in Texas. In theory this is about capital punishment and Herzog introduced the film by telling us he does not believe in the death sentence and that he had no real argument for his position, only that he lived in postwar Germany and grew up with the Nazi legacy over his head. He claimed the Nazi’s had no problem killing people for trivial reasons as well as practice genocide and that no one of his generation, coming out of this history, would agree with capital punishment. He does interview the executioner who has killed 125 people in his career and points out that this man who clearly has no problem with execution, also has no real argument to support his position or his job other than that he does it.

This lack of argument or insight into one’s position echoes throughout this movie. The minister who stands with the executees, the family and friends of the murder victims, the police, the murderers themselves, no one has any insight into what they did, what happened to them or what is happening to them. The characters, who are all real, are from the more destitute and downtrodden members of Texas (American) society. I left the movie because it was clear that I would learn nothing about capital punishment or the human condition and I had this bad feeling that Werner (who conducted all the interviews) was quietly mocking the people he was talking to. The lives they lived were sad and pathetic and hopeless and Werner had the audience laughing at them and their answers. I am not sure Werner is a very nice man and this movie went a way to confirming that judgement.

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