Woyzeck (1979)
Directed by Werner Herzog

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * * ½

DVD In Association with
Rent DVDs online!
In the USA:
Try Netflix For Free.In the UK:

Franz Woyzeck (Klaus Kinski), a mentally unstable private in the German army who is living on a diet of peas as an experiment being conducted by a doctor, learns that his wife Marie (Eva Mattes) has been unfaithful to him. Such knowledge quickly eats away at Woyzeck's mind and the man becomes increasingly unhinged.

Set in a charming, beautifully filmed town inhabited by a variety of peculiar individuals, several of whom have some unique obsession or another, Werner Herzog's Woyzeck is a wonderfully eccentric, vaguely comic, but genuinely dark and sorrowful movie. The director has created a distinctive world that, while lovely and engaging, is also suffused with tragedy.

The viewer may be amused when he hears Woyzeck's captain fret about the passage of time and lecture his underling about his lack of morals, and he may smile when he listens to the hero's doctor pontificate on reason, science, and man's ability to control his bodily functions. As odd as such diatribes are, however, they also elicit a sense of sadness. Herzog exposes how these persons, and virtually everyone else in the town, trample Woyzeck underfoot, how they use him as though he were a mere object, or even a subject for experimentation. The moviegoer is, consequently, always aware of the protagonist's subordination to others so that he comes to feel truly sorry for the man.

Even Woyzeck's relationship with his wife contributes to this pervasive misery. She shares her husband's wretched poverty, and, because of her station, and her single asset, her beauty, she is repeatedly exploited sexually by her social betters. As a result of such treatment, not only is she tormented by guilt, but she also arouses her husband's jealousy.

Happily, Woyzeck himself is a simple but fascinating character. Like a terrified rabbit, he alternates between frenetic, nervous movement and absolute petrifaction. He lives in fear both of the realities existing around him and of the imaginary details of the distinctive universe he has conjured up. At different times, he talks about reading the patterns in which toadstools grow and listens to imaginary voices coming from beneath the earth. As deluded as he may be, the soldier is, nonetheless, often pragmatic and relates how a poor man like himself cannot afford morals. In spite of such practical opinions and, perhaps, because of his interest in things that do not really exist, he, at first, fails to see his wife's obvious infidelity. When it is revealed to him, he is devastated and eventually maddened by her actions.

Kinski's portrayal of the title character is, I should add, utterly enthralling. The actor's face and mannerisms are so expressive that the viewer is sure to find himself drawn into the protagonist's weird, furtive world so that he experiences its disorientation, fear, anger, frustration, and madness. Even though every other performer in the movie acquits himself well, Kinski shows such skill that they seem to fade around him. That said, Eva Mattes is also a pleasure to watch as she gives expression to her character's passions and sadness, as well as to her overwhelming feelings of guilt and remorse.

While Woyzeck is hardly a masterpiece, it is a deliciously quirky, consistently intriguing, and touchingly tragic film.

Review by Keith Allen

Home Page / Alphabetical List of Films
List of Films by Star Ratings
Aesthetic Principles / Guide to Ratings
Criteria for Inclusion / DVD Stores / Blog

© 2006 Keith Allen. All rights reserved.

Click Here

banner 2