The 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, by Werner Hertzhog and starring Klaus Kinsky, is completely and totally bonkers. It could only have been conceived and made by men who are totally insane. Yet for me it is proof that we all have a touch of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, and this is the film that engages it fully and twists our minds almost until we beg to be released.
The Protagonist, Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald (Fitzcarraldo to the Peruvian natives) is a man entombed in the great rain forests of South America, yet he hungers desperately for European culture, especially grand opera. He travels many miles to attend the opera in Manaos, Brazil, but he is fanatically determined to build an opera house in the city of Iquitos, Peru.
Fate provides him with the opportunity of a lifetime – if he has the strength and stamina for the task. A fortune in raw rubber lies waiting to be picked up from the quayside upriver. But the rapids are un-navigable going upstream. There is a way to reach the treasure – but it is a next to impossible task.
The landing is at a point on the river on a narrow neck of land less than a mile wide separating the turbulent river from a quiet one. It ought to be possible to physically manhandle a ship across the isthmus, through the jungle from one to the other. The only catch is that the isthmus is a mountain range. Fitzcarraldo and the natives he hires must manhandle a 320-ton ship up a 40 degree hillside and down the other side.
Now, the whole point about the film (made in 1982) is that Werner Hertzhog could only film the Herculean task of pulling a 320-ton ship over a jungle-clad mountain by actually doing it in the heart of the Brazilian rain forest – and that is exactly what he and his crew did. After long months living in the jungle and heaving the ship over the mountain, tempers became so frayed that Hertzhog and his leading man Klaus Kinsky (neither exactly stable at the best of times) literally tried to kill each other. This agony and angst finds its way onto the screen making the film both unwatchable and unmissable.