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Fitzcarraldo (1982)

Obsessive Irish opera enthusiast Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Klaus Kinski) plans to build an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. First, he has to make his fortune and decides on a rubber plantation on an inhospitable stretch of the river.

Fitzgerald recruits local Indians to haul his riverboat over the mountain that stands between him and the realisation of his dreams.

With its central image of a ship being hauled over a mountain, Werner Herzog’s epic account of Fitzgerald’s visionary attempt to build an opera house in the depths of the Amazonian jungle is a film about the costs of obsession.


Fitzgerald is dismissed as ‘conquistador of the useless’ after his plans to build a trans-Andean railroad and to sell ice in the area have both failed. But his monomaniac dedication to realising his vision finds unlikely allies including the seemingly hostile native Indians, who name him ‘Fitzcarraldo’.

Made before the days when such epic quests could be safely mocked up with the aid of digital effects, Herzog took his crew down the Amazon and filmed deep in the jungles of Peru and Ecuador. It’s hard not to see the character of Fitzcarraldo – the risk-taking visionary – as the director’s alter-ego.

Given the extraordinarily chaotic nature of the film’s production – detailed in Les Blank’s aptly-titled documentary, Burden of Dreams (1982) – which involved the loss of the two previously-cast leads (Jason Robards and Mick Jagger) with Herzog having to start over again after a year’s worth of filming, plus injuries and deaths among the crew – not to mention Kinski’s legendary volatility – it’s clear that there were equal degrees of obsession at work on either side of the camera.

Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (‘Fitzcarraldo’)
Klaus Kinski
Claudia Cardinale
Don Aquilino
José Lewgoy
Miguel Ángel Fuentes
Captain Orinoco Paul
Paul Hittscher
Huerequeque the cook
Huerequeque Enrique Bohorquez
Grande Otelo
Opera Manager
Peter Berling
Chief of Campa Indians
David Pérez Espinosa
Rubber Baron
Ruy Polanah
Old Missionary
Salvador Godínez
Young Missionary
Dieter Milz
William Rose

Werner Herzog