1972 film by German director Werner Herzog
, starring Klaus Kinski
as Aguirre. Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes
The film is the story of a detachment of Spanish conquistadors searching for the lost city of gold in the jungles of South America. As the film opens, they have become lost, mired in the mud and thick undergrowth of the jungle. The jungle is filled with hostile natives, and the detachment is vulnerable and in danger of being overrun. The decision is made to split up, with a small group being sent downriver to try to find a Spanish garrison on the coast and send reinforcements.
Most of the officers leave, and it's immediately obvious that the rank and file soldiers have been abandoned to be massacred in the jungle. The escape party is slowly killed off by rapids, natives on the shore picking them off with arrows, and disease from drinking river water. As their numbers diwndle, a feud erupts between Aguirre and the lead officer over what to do. Their fight is pointless, because everyone dies. (Trust me when I say that I'm giving nothing away -- it becomes obvious in the first five minutes of the film)
I think the opening shot of this movie is one of the greatest individual shots in cinema history. It's a slow zoom out that starts with a closeup of a soldier marching down a steep mountain trail in full armor. As the zoom contiues, you see more and more soldiers plodding down the hill, until the shot has zoomed out to show an entire mountain covered with a line of soldiers and porters. The view of all these extras clad in metal is absolutely awe inspiring -- it's clearly real jungle, real people, real costumes, an unbelievable feat of logistics that's completely engrossing.
But what's really mind blowing is when the shot zooms all the way out, and another armor-clad solider walks into the bottom of the frame, just feet from the camera. It's suddenly obvious that you're not just looking at about a hundred guys walking down a hill, you're looking at a column of thousands of men that stretches all the way down the facing mountain and up to the peak where the camera is sitting. It's one of those shots that just cements your attention to the screen and utterly sucks you in to the film.
Aguirre is the most depressing move I have ever seen. I could watch it over and over.