It’s not difficult to argue that all Herzog/Kinski films are attempts at making and remaking the same movie — Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu and Woyzek less so — but that’s the beginning of the discussion rather than its conclusion. After all, most romantic comedies are remakes of the same movie, too. This final collaboration is no less vital than the other films. Kinski plays a Brazilian bandit who comes to the African West Coast as slave trader. Again, here’s the white man in a dangerously alien environment, again, here are Kinski’s borderless mania and passion. We’ve been familiar with Herzog’s grand shots at least since the Machu Picchu opening of Aguirre, and if anything, the extended takes of hundreds of extras in tribal gear are even more breathtaking, as much ethnography as they are drama. It’s also the first time we’ve seen Kinski lead an army of black amazons into battle, a sight that’s not easily forgotten. Take that, 300.
Watching “Cobra Verde,” you feel at times that Mr. Herzog, like a figure out of Joseph Conrad, is in danger of losing his way, or even his mind. His eye, however, never deserts him, and the final third of this film contains sequences of horrifying sublimity and ethereal beauty, moments that have a clarity and power beyond the reach of reason.
Cobra Verde. Werner Herzog, 1987. ****