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ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

Director: WERNER HERZOG

U.S.A. • 2007 • COLOUR • DIGITAL • 99 MIN


THE McMURDO RESEARCH STATION IN INHOSPITABLE ANTARCTICA SEEMS A MAGNET FOR THE DREAMERS AND ECCENTRICS WHO ARE WERNER HERZOG’S KIND OF PEOPLE, AS HE DOES DOUBLE-DUTY AS DIRECTOR AND QUIZZICAL ON-SCREEN GUIDE IN THIS WITTY, WISE DOCUMENTARY.

He finds divers who venture daringly beneath the ice-cap without a tether attached, environmentalists testing the quality of emissions by taking samples in the mouth of an active volcano, a fitter who believes the shape of his hand affirms his royal Aztec heritage, and another scientist whose party piece involves her being zipped up inside a piece of luggage. Herzog asks the right questions, and is a great listener, but all the while he’s gathering evidence for a film which is, in effect, a rather more profound affair than the quirky human-interest piece his commissioners at the Discovery Channel were perhaps expecting.

The underwater footage and glacial vistas captured here celebrate the majesty and strangeness of the natural world in no uncertain terms, yet the message about climate change coming though loud and clear from the scientific community also underlines the ominous dual meaning of the film’s title. It’s not Herzog’s way to hector the audience, instead he finds much to celebrate in the passionate commitment to knowledge displayed by the mavericks and visionaries he encounters. And it’s somehow typical of Herzog that he finds a piercingly relevant metaphor for mankind’s skewed destiny in the mad story of a lone penguin tracing a defiant, heroic, utterly doomed solo path into the heart of the tundra. This is a blissfully enjoyable, utterly haunting offering from a truly great filmmaker. — Trevor Johnston.

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