Fata Morgana (1971)

“Paradise is available to everybody. In Paradise, only God is looking on. There, you cross the sand without seeing your face…”

Fata Morgana Poster

Synopsis:
A Mayan creation myth accompanies footage shot by Werner Herzog in the Sahara Desert and other parts of Africa.

Genres:

Review:
Fata Morgana — named after a Sicilian mirage believed to be caused by fairies — is perhaps Werner Herzog’s most representative early work, clearly displaying his fascination with landscapes, diverse humans, and moments of unexpected quirkiness. Unfortunately, while it’s lauded by nearly every critic as an experimental masterpiece (Time Out calls it “brilliantly original, utterly haunting”), I find Fata Morgana to be three parts emperor’s clothing to one part enigmatic vision. Herzog originally set out to create a science fiction story, but abandoned this idea and ended up editing his footage into a three-part “creation story” — Creation, Paradise, and The Golden Age — which doesn’t really reveal much about any of these three topics. Instead, in characteristic Herzog-ian fashion, he seems primarily concerned with aiming his camera at random images, then holding it there for far longer than convention would imply; sometimes this works, but more often it’s simply tedious. Listening to Herzog’s commentary on the DVD illuminates much of what was going on in his mind while shooting and editing the film — but without these insights, it’s difficult to maintain interest even for 79 minutes; the images in Fata Morgana will remain with you, but the “story” — such as it is — won’t.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Some trippy desert mirages
    FM Mirages
  • Disturbing shots of dessicated cattle strewn across the sand
    FM Cow
  • The truly odd closing shots of a pimp and a madam performing in a brothel
    FM Pimp Madame
  • Many striking images of desert landscapes and peoples
    FM Dunes
    FM Fox
    FM City
    FM Kids
    FM Holding Fox

Must See?
No, though it’s worth a look simply for its place in cinematic history. Listed as a Personal Recommendation and a film with historical importance in the back of Peary’s book.

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