Monday, December 09, 2013

WHERE THE GREEN ANTS DREAM (1984) - Werner Herzog



Herzog's first English language film may be stiffer and less narratively adventurous than his preceding '70s masterworks (Aguirre, Fitzcarraldo, Nosferatu, etc.), but it may also be his funniest, Bad Lieutenant: POCNO included. This is an "issues" movie, make no mistake, but one with an absurdist's sense of humor at its core. What begins as a documentary-like treatise on Australian Aboriginals refusing to cede a sacred stretch of tribal land to a corporate uranium mining outfit, soon morphs into mild satire as the mining company, fearful of lawsuits and bad PR, attempts to woo the natives into submission instead of steamrolling them to smithereens.

Soon, the corporate brass is treating the elders to nights on the town at expensive restaurants, giving them tours of their towering office buildings and buying them digital wristwatches, which have an amusing habit of beeping repeatedly at inopportune times (in court, for instance). But the natives are unimpressed, still refusing to peacefully abandon the place "where the green ants dream." At least until the tribal elder gets a gander of one of the white man's giant airplanes sitting on a runway. As it turns out, the Aborigines like their bling with wings. Not that any of them knows how to fly the damned thing.

Herzog peppers his topical tale with a few other peculiar diversions. An old woman who may have lost her dog ("Benjamin Franklin") in one of the mines, random shots of tornadoes from the American Midwest. He also stocks it with lanky Aussie actor Bruce Spence (from my childhood favorite The Road Warrior) as the corporate lackey geologist given the unenviable task of trying to "understand" the Aboriginals. Like his character, Spence has thankless role of being the film's middle man, the white man conduit into the Aboriginal world. But he handles it with aplomb and altitude (as mentioned, he's very tall). I was just glad to see the Gyro Captain from Mad Max in starring role, even if it's Herzog who's the unmistakable pilot of this plane.

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