In the 19th century, a notorious Brazilian outlaw, Francisco Manoel da Silva aka Cobra Verde (Klaus Kinski, The Great Silence), hides in a sugar plantation where he finds work as a foreman for wealthy rancher, Don Octávio Coutinho (José Lewgoy, Kiss of the Spider Woman). After Don Octávio discovers that Cobra Verde has impregnated all his daughters, the sugar baron sends the bandido to Western Africa to get slaves. Don Octávio hopes the local aborigines kill Cobra Verde, but the resourceful criminal creates a slave-trade empire instead. All hell breaks loose when Cobra Verde begins losing his mind.
Reaction & Thoughts:
Cobra Verde is the last of the five films Kinski made with director Werner Herzog (the other four being Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Woyzeck, and Fitzcarraldo). It’s not the best, but it is not the worst either — I will place it right in the middle.
The love-hate relationship between director and actor has been the subject of countless of books and essays. Herzog himself made a documentary titled My Best Friend, which details the complex creative partnership. There is something hypnotic about their collaborations and Cobra Verde is no exception.
The film has all the flaws and virtues of the Kinski-Herzog movies. The gorgeous cinematography compensates for a lack of character development. Kinski, as usual, gives a one-note performance. But what a powerful note! Although you never quite understand what makes Kinski’s anti-hero tick, you can’t keep your eyes off him. Kinski knew how to infuse his characters with a sense of madness. The actor was not faking it — Kinski was insane! Herzog tailor-made the part to take advantage of his star’s mercurial personality.
What I like about Cobra Verde, and Herzog’s films for that matter, is that it takes me into fantastic real-life locations (filmed on location in Brazil, Colombia and Ghana) — no fake sets, no visual effects. Herzog finds eye-popping locales and make them characters unto themselves. The story is really an excuse to travel far and way. Herzog adds Kinski’s madness to the mix and the end result is a terrific sensory experience.
Conclusions & Final Thoughts:
Cobra Verde is a one-of-a-kind adventure tale with a one-of-a-kind actor. It’s a flawed, but fascinating movie that will stick in your mind a lot longer than any other mainstream feature. Color, 111 minutes, Rated R.