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Even Dwarfs Started Small (rewatch)

Posted by martinteller on April 6, 2013

In a remote institution of unknown purpose, sitting in the middle of a desolate landscape, the inmates (prisoners? students? workers? patients?) have taken over, laying siege to the main building.  The administrator tries to bargain with his one hostage, but the others are having no part of it.  They wreak havoc on the grounds, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.  Also, they’re all little people.

This is a delightfully strange film.  While it can be savored for its various allegorical implications — a world we’ve created that we’re ill-equipped to deal with, the absurdity of society, the futility of existence, the senseless cruelty of man and nature — it can also be enjoyed simply for its relentless oddity.  Herzog’s second feature already shows his remarkable talent for crafting indelible images: a dromedary on its knees, flaming flowerpots, a car turning in endless circles, a wedding party of insects, a procession with a crucified monkey… and so forth.

But… it does get tiresome after a while.  I hate to back down on a film I’ve previously championed.  Especially one in my top 100.  And even more especially one that gives my top 100 a certain personal flavor.  Something out of the ordinary to offset the obviousness of selections like Casablanca, Taxi Driver and Seven Samurai.  However, I have to be honest.  After about 50 minutes of this, I was growing weary.  I think of Inland Empire, which is madness for three hours, but that holds a deeper fascination.  It evokes deep and unsettling moods.  Here, it’s more a case of one nutty thing after another.  I was going to use the word predictable, but that’s not right at all.  It’s more… unsurprising.  Once the tone is established, it doesn’t vary except for a few brief moments of quiet before the chaos resumes.  While that makes the oppressive bleakness of the film — despite its humor and energy — more effective, it does get old.

So it’s with a bit of sad regret that I realize this film no longer belongs on my top 100.  But perhaps it will make room for something equally idiosyncratic, yet more resonant.  Rating: Very Good (83)


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