During the 1800s, paroled Brazilian bandit Cobra Verde is sent to West Africa with a few troops to man an old Portuguese fort and to convince the local African ruler to resume the slave trade with Brazil.
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The feared bandit Cobra Verde (Klaus Kinski) is hired by a plantation owner to supervise his slaves. After the owner suspects Cobra Verde of consorting with his young daughters, the owner wishes him gone. Rather than kill him,the owner sends Cobra Verde to Africa. The only white man in the area, Cobra Verde finds himself the victim of torture and humiliation. Later, he trains soldiers in a rebel army. Far from home, Cobra Verde is on the edge of madness. Written by
Ken Miller <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Werner Herzog's notoriously combative relationship with Klaus Kinski reached something of a pitch in their final collaboration. A famous picture taken onset shows Kinski attempting to throttle Herzog in front of a crowd of African extras. Herzog discusses the picture with photographer Beat Presser in the documentary Mein liebster Feind - Klaus Kinski (1999): Herzog thinks that Kinski, aware of the camera, wanted to create a dramatic moment (Presser thinks Kinski was genuinely trying to kill him). See more »
The kingdom of Dahomey, where the African part of the story is allegedly set, was in present day Benin, while Elmina Castle is located in present day Ghana, 500 km to the West. See more »
From famous German director Werner Herzog - a man who's cinematic penchants usually include documentary-style visuals (stark but not shaky!), stories centering on man's loss of sanity, destructive ambition (or lack thereof) and outsiders, and larger than life characters - comes his last "big" film. To put it more aptly, his last film with famously bonkers actor Klaus Kinski. Both men had a famously sadomasochistic relationship and in this last effort, Kinski was reputedly totally out of control.
"Cobra Verde" marks the breaking point between these two great man. the point where Herzog and Kinski moved too far apart to ever consider working together again, the director evolving into too much of a control adept, and the leading man moving way beyond the safe boundaries of sanity. Yet the film is an extreme as a result and will divide audiences. But in truth how can this be a negative aspect: a film you either love or hate is at least interesting in most cases.
The story of bandit Cobra Verde, sent to Africa - by his former employer as a punishment for impregnating most of his daughters - to reestablish slave trade and battle an opposing bloodthirsty African tribal king, is in itself interesting and unusual enough to arouse interest, but barely suffices to convey the numerous delicacies within the film. Kinski's possessed turn may not be an adequate incarnation of the character, yet it is a powerhouse performance if only for the sheer energy deployed. And for once, Kinski is not the only raving lunatic and Herzog peppers the screenplay with often creepy and dark but hysterical lines and memorable situations and characters.
What may disturb many beyond the chaos on show is the casual cruelty on display at times. It is adequate for once. The black man is treated with as much political correctness as must have been the case in real life at the time (perhaps even somewhat less). On the other front, watching this you actually feel the suffocating heat that slowly burns away the dignity of these characters and makes them animals, sometimes far less than that. The film's mood is perfectly rendered and Herzog's visuals are surprisingly artistic and classy at times, for a film-maker preferring a more "cinéma-vérité" approach.
In the end, "Cobra Verde" is a cinematic oddity because of its taste for extremes (though they never hurt the film's own coherence and internal logic) in every sense. Nonetheless, neither Kinski nor Herzog ever displayed such artistic courage (or sheer lunacy) at any other point of their respective careers, and that's saying something!
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