15 September 2000 | FilmFlaneur
Herzog's apocalyptic vision of Kuwait is grand and memorable
Herzog's grandiose manner, sense of the operatic, and true historical events come together awe-inspiringly in this apocalyptic vision of oil fires and destruction left in the wake of the Gulf War.
If ever a man was fitted to undertake the portrayal of destruction on such a grand scale, then Herzog is he. It would be interesting to know whether this documentary was a commission or Hertzog directed this film on a personal, artistic basis. Whatever the reason for its production, Lessons of Darkness (it's English title) is a stunning piece of work. The Kuwaiti landscape is presented in sweeping, wide angle shots making it look like the surface of an alien planet rather than the Middle East. Huge oil fires, the cratered burnt desert, dark oil spills, crumpled and abandoned machinery and war vehicles, appear in surreal and awesome parade which both take the viewer's breath away in their beauty and shock through the utter devastation.
A central section, in which quiet footsteps walk alongside a ghastly display of torture implements, provides a shocking contrast to the images that open the film. Here the impact is smaller, more intimate but as moving.
In the third and last part of the film, firefighters attempt to douse the oil blazes, their hoses and equipment rearing up and out in the smoke and sunshine, shining like monsters in the alien landscape.
The sonorous music of Wagner perfectly complements a vision which is an entirely characteristic, memorable addition to Herzog's oeuvre.