Fata Morgana. 1971. West Germany. Written and directed by Werner Herzog. With Lotte Eisner, Eugen Des Montagnes, James William Gledhill. 35mm print from Deutsche Kinemathek; courtesy of Werner Herzog Films. In German; English subtitles. 79 min.
Herzog makes desert mirages palpably real through sound and image in this hallucinatory walkabout across the shimmering Sahara. The filmmaker would later observe, “[E]ven though obviously shot on Earth, the film does not necessarily show the beauty and harmony and horror of our world, rather some kind of a utopia—or dystopia—of beauty and harmony and horror. When you watch Fata Morgana you see the embarrassed landscapes of our world, an idea that appears repeatedly throughout my work, from The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser to Pilgrimage [to Lessons of Darkness].”
Lektionen in Finsternis (Lessons of Darkness). 1992. France/Great Britain/Germany. Written and directed by Werner Herzog. 35mm print from Deutsche Kinemathek; courtesy of Werner Herzog Films. In German, English, Arabic; English subtitles. 54 min.
Ever the fabulist, Herzog invented the Pascal quote that prefaces this allegory of hell on earth: “The collapse of the stellar universe will occur-—like creation-—in grandiose splendor.” What follows-—images of war’s devastation, of burning oil fields and torture victims traumatized into mute silence—is poetic and harrowing, leading Herzog to call this his “requiem for an uninhabitable planet.”