In their final collaboration werner herzog directs klaus kinski in the remarkable tale of francisco manoel da silva the flamboyant 19th century brazilian bandit know as cobra verde. When the owner of a sugar plantation unk... more »nowingly hires the barefoot gun-toting thief to keep his slaves in check. Studio: Starz/sphe Release Date: 06/03/2008 Starring: King Ampaw Salvatore Basile Run time: 110 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Werner Herzog« less
"As many other films and characters created by Werner Herzog, Cobra Verde explores the extent to which cruelty and obsession can lead an individual to his own moral and human defeat. Settled in some west African country, the film is a recreation of the horror of the slave trade embodied in a charatcer, astonishingly played by Klause Kinski, whose amorality and thirst for absolute power equal the madness of characters such as Fitzcarraldo and Aguirre. Like these other two films, also Cobre Verde explores the darkest side of human mind and soul with a clear reference to a very precise historical experience. The three characters share the same obsession for domination and conquest which proves to be fatal to many individuals including themselves. The last scene of the film is absolutely mesmerizing and, at least to me, unforgettable. Cinematography and photography are superb. It is sorprising that it is almost impossible for those who would like to see this film again to find it anywhere to rent it out."
The final Herzog/Kinski collaboration
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 12/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Klaus Kinski, the mercurial actor and star of hundreds of films both big and small, attained his grandest stature when working with German director Werner Herzog. They collaborated on several films together, including "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," "Fitzcarraldo," "Woyzeck," "Nosferatu," and "Cobra Verde." I've seen three of these films now, and the formula is the same in all three. Kinski plays a driven personality who attempts to perform some grand feat that no one else can achieve. In "Aguirre" he set out with a contingent of Spanish soldiers to find the fabled city of gold. "Fitzcarraldo" saw Kinski playing a wealthy rubber baron in Brazil in search of finding a way to build an opera house on the banks of the Amazon. "Cobra Verde" continues the tradition with Kinski starring as a former South American plantation owner and bandit leader in search of a way to restart the African slave trade against crushing odds. There's something magnetic about Kinski in these Herzog movies that makes you believe no other actor could play the character. Perhaps it is his volcanic personality shining through onscreen, a personality that Herzog had great difficulties in restraining. Whatever the case, film fans could do worse than spend an evening with a Herzog/Kinski collaboration.
In "Cobra Verde" Kinski plays Francisco Manoel da Silva, a man ruined when family catastrophes and a bad drought cost him his plantation. In an attempt to recover his property and put his life back together, he takes a grinding job with a mining company. When the owners try to shortchange him after a hard day's work, he stomps off in a rage and begins a career as the notorious bandit Cobra Verde. While we don't see his subsequent career as a robber and killer, we do learn that all of Brazil--indeed, all of South America--has at least heard of his great exploits. Fortunately for Kinski's character, the wealthy sugar baron Don Octavio Coutinho (Jose Lewgoy) doesn't recognize him when Cobra Verde somehow calms a dangerous runaway slave. Impressed by the man's talents, Coutinho hires da Silva to work as an overseer on his enormous estates. Everything seems to go gangbusters until da Silva impregnates every single one of Don Coutinho's mulatto daughters. The sugar baron goes ballistic, and gets even angrier when he discovers he is dealing with the great Cobra Verde. Coutinho and his fellow kingpins devise a plan to rid themselves of this potentially dangerous force. They decide to send him to Africa.
Why? Because the land barons in South America want more slaves in order to work more land. There are obstacles to the mission, including a ban on the importation of slaves and a hostile African king who kills all of the European mediators. Da Silva knows none of this, or very little of it, before agreeing to go to Africa. He doesn't have much of a choice since the sugar barons will kill him if he refuses. His ship sets him ashore at Elmina, a gigantic barracoon on the coast of present day Ghana. Cobra Verde discovers that an attack on the fortress wiped out all but one man, a chatty free African who agrees to help da Silva negotiate with the King of Dahomey for more slaves. And it works, at first, when da Silva convinces the representatives from Dahomey to trade slaves for new rifles. Then problems set in. The king brings Kinski's character before him and threatens him with death. Da Silva escapes and makes an alliance with a prince who wishes to take over the throne. Thanks to Cobra Verde's manic military training of thousands of African women, the prince captures the throne and allows the slave trade to continue. Once again, the situation deteriorates after a time, forcing Cobra Verde to flee from Elmina with nowhere to go. The last shot we see of him is one of the more memorable scenes I've had the pleasure to see in a film. It stays with you.
The plot of "Cobra Verde" isn't nearly as interesting as Herzog's visuals and Kinski's performance. As always, Kinski captures emotional extremes extraordinarily well. He's subdued when Don Coutinho shows him the brutality of the plantation or when he converses with the Don's daughters. When training the prince's army, he's practically frothing at the mouth. Kinski is never anything but entirely believable in both situations. Of course, it takes a performer of Kinski's caliber to stand out in films where the visuals are often more important than the human elements. Such is the case with "Cobra Verde." I have two favorite scenes in the film, but there are many just as memorable. The first situation takes place when da Silva refuses to visit the king because he says he must stay where he has one foot in the ocean. When the king's men tie da Silva up, they take a jug, fill it with seawater, and tie it around his foot for the long trip inland. There's your one foot in the water! The second scene involves sending messages from Elmina to the new prince. A line of Africans extending for miles along the coast, each man separated by a few feet, send codes by waving enormous red flags. Herzog's camera lingers on this incredible imagery for minutes at a time.
Included on the disc are a trailer and a commentary track with Herzog. The director discusses his tempestuous relationship with Kinski (always a fan favorite), his experiences with Bruce Chatwin and how he convinced this author to let him use "The Viceroy of Ouidah" as source material for the film, and the difficulties of shooting in so many harsh environments. While I liked "Cobra Verde," and think it is obligatory for Klaus Kinski fans, I much prefer "Aguirre" and "Fitzcarraldo" to this film. Still, this one will make you think long after that last, lingering shot on the beach.
In My Country I was a Snake Myself
Chris Roberts | Astoria, NY | 04/07/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Klaus Kinski, always on crazy duty, here shows up as Cobra Verde, a slave leader who seriously ticks off his master by going on an impregnation spree and is thus sent to Africa on a suicide mission. His stated goal is to revive the slave trade but everybody involved knows that he is being sent there to die. Verde is only too excited to get dressed up in his Christopher Columbus get up and sail the ocean blue, not bothered in the least by the fact that nobody ever expects to see him again. Once there he has some initial luck with the natives until it runs out and he is kidnapped for being white. Quickly thereafter he is rescued by a man who feels as though the throne is his and wants Verde to help him seize it. So just like Emilio Estevez did with those darned Ducks, Verde takes a group of losers and transforms them into winners, only instead of being good at hockey these guys are turned into a maniacal killing machine.
Since this is a Werner Herzog movie we know that the focus will be on the uncaring ways of this Earth of ours. Both leaders, the plantation owner in Brazil and the king in Africa, are shown to be the same despite the color of their skin. They both lack morals and believe their own hype. But Herzog isn't interested in building these guys up as evil doers; his films don't need pre-packaged villains because to him we are all villains. When the plantation owner bemoans the fact that he has yet to impregnate every mulatto girl in his fields it is not with the intention of painting him a racist or a rapist. Rather the point is that all men in power are the same. They always want more and will stop at nothing to get it. Verde is an interesting character because throughout the film he is constantly in a position of power, always lording over a large number of blacks, and yet appears to be uncorrupted by it. We never learn his motivations, whatever they may be. The final shot is very telling however; as Verde runs away from a cripple he is unable to make his getaway because he can't move a boat from the beach to the water. Here is a man who overthrew a king, but only because of those he ruled over. Without them he can't even escape the hell he created.
The charge of racism has been leveled against Herzog on more than one occasion and this film couldn't have helped. Dozens of extremely dark blacks fill the landscape as slaves who live under the boot of a white man. A white man who spends his days teaching them how to fight like savages. That said, and let me be very clear; this film is an ugly glimpse into the primitive nature of humanity not an attempt to proclaim white superiority. If the roles of the races look stereotypical it is because stereotypes are based on facts. There is all the difference in the world ever between being racist and reflecting a racist world. In the film the whites view the blacks as nothing more than slaves and sex toys, and the blacks view the whites as the devil. I would say that that is a fair assessment of race relations circa 1850. I liked "Cobra Verde" but in no way did I love it. The first 30 minutes are dull but after that the plot gets rolling. There are also some awesome shots of the African countryside which become even more impressive when Herzog fills them with the sheer number of extras he had on hand. Not one of Herzog's greatest films, but a strong, unblinking look into our past. ***1/4 "
alrodz | Galveston, TX USA | 02/21/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"COBRA VERDE marked the fiinal collaboration (not counting the director's elegiac documentary MEIN LIEBSTER FEIND) between Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski. It's one of their most haunting works, quietly epic in its scope, fueled by gorgeous cinematography and and an enigmatic lead performance. Herzog's commentary is wonderful. COBRA VERDE is one of those films I find myself rewatching in bits, if only to recapture for a moment the funereal magic of a lost world."
Haunting, politically incorrect view of African slavery
Andreas Faust | Tasmanian Autonomous Zone | 01/12/2010
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a haunting film about slavery (based loosely on a Bruce Chatwin novel), but unlike other films on the topic it doesn't actually denounce slavery, working instead within the mental framework of the 19th century. Not a 'politically correct' approach, of course, as director Herzog cheerfully acknowledges, but an historically faithful one.
Herzog is concerned with authenticity when portraying African cultures, and this may be one of the most realistic depictions of colonial Africa ever committed to film. Interestingly, the actor who plays the King of Dahomey is a real African tribal king.
Klaus Kinski plays the title role with a crazed intensity which according to Herzog mirrors the fact that he was slipping over the edge in real life. Kinski's character Cobra Verde longs "to go forth from here to another world", but in fact he is already in another world - Herzog's camera captures the sense of strangeness and mystery in each landscape the film passes through.
In many ways 'Cobra Verde' is like an extended dreamscape, hyponotic yet full of surprising juxtapositions. While not Herzog's most coherent film, in terms of stylised cinematography it ranks up there with his best. It is a work of art that demands attentive viewing.
Contrary to the myth that whites are responsible for the African slave trade, the film also acknowledges the historical reality that slavery was practiced extensively by Arabs and Africans (not that whites didn't actively participate in it, of course). Herzog discusses some of these issues in the director's commentary track, which is interesting in its own right."