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Saturday, May 12, 2018

Woyzeck

Like its star, Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog's 1979 adaptation of Wozyeck is beautiful in its ugliness. The story, about a lowly soldier whose life sinks to the bottom, is depressing and without pity. But there's also something noble about the man, an everyman of sorts who is the victim of everyone around him.

The story is based on a play by George Blucher (which also was turned into an opera by Alban Berg, see below) and has been made into a few movies. This version is pretty accurate to the source material, and is done in scenes, like a play, without much intercutting. One scene, for example, at the end of the play is done by Kinski in one long take.

Franz Woyzeck is a private in the army. He's something of a whipping boy (during the credits sequence he is abused by an officer, made to do push-ups with not only a pack on this back, but the commander's boot on his neck). He shaves his captain, who calls him a good man but a man without morals.

Woyzeck has a child out of wedlock who lives with his mother, Marie (Eva Mattes). She is attracted to a drum major, who is blonde and muscular. Eventually she will succumb to his charms, and the drum major mocks and torments Woyzeck at a tavern.

If that weren't enough, Woyzeck is a guinea pig for a nutty doctor, who has had him eat nothing but peas for several months, so maybe we can guess why he's not feeling well.

Eventually Woyzeck cracks and I'll leave it at that, but I won't soon forget the expression on Kinski's face as he takes his revenge. Kinski usually didn't play characters this passive, but you can see the anguish in his face and movements. It's almost a silent performance.

Herzog's direction sets Woyzeck in a world of mud. The only flash of colors are in the captain and drum major's blue uniforms. Woyzeck and his wife live in drab brown. This makes for a film that is not particularly visually alluring, but is appropriate for the subject.

Woyzeck is a brisk 79 minutes. As I get older I realize that short films are usually better than long ones. People have to pee, and there is nothing unnecessary in it.

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