Encounters At The End of the World (U.)
Directed by Werner Herzog. 99 mins.
Already possibly the best feature maker to come out of the seventies German New Wave and one of the world’s most celebrated documentary makers, in the last few years Werner Herzog has established himself as one of cinema’s greatest comedy performers. With his comedy catchphrase 'I believe the common character of the universe is not harmony but hostility, chaos and murder' and Teutonic deadpan delivery of English, he is a hilarious parody of the Germanic humourlessness.
The problem is I think he knows it now, and the joke was always his ability to convince you that he was not trying to be funny. Some of his best documentaries (Grizzly Man, Little Dieter Needs to Fly) have generally been centred around the recreation of a narrative but this latest is basically a personality led travelogue, Herzog touring places of interest in Antartica.
He has spent most of his half century as a film director chronicling the extremes of nature and human endeavour. Among the camps and scientific bases that make up the Antarctic communities he finds lots of strange eccentric characters but loses interests in them after a minute at the most and is often rather snide about them in his commentary.
The film is still an extraordinary insight into both the lives of the people who populate this forbidding land and the ecology of a continent. There are many unforgettable sequences but the shots of divers who investigate the life forms that exist under the glaciers really demand to be seen.
There’s an ecological slant too and the message from the scientist is that mankind is doomed, a view Herzog accepts, if not quite with glee, than an easy acquiescence. He misses no opportunity to express his disdain for what he calls “tree huggers and whale huggers” yet he is equalled awed by nature. He’s the nature loving equivalent of Satanist, he worships it as a dark, destructive force, the inevitable destroyer of humanity and all our follies.