Warna Herzog ho jayenge hum!

Updated: Jul 08, 2020, 07:41 IST | Mayank Shekhar | Mumbai

Okay, be careful as you look at the world's bravest soldier of a filmmaker, look at love in the 21st Century instead.

Werner Herzog (left) directing Yuichi Ishii and Mahiro Tanimoto in his film, Family Romance, LLC
Werner Herzog (left) directing Yuichi Ishii and Mahiro Tanimoto in his film, Family Romance, LLC

Mayank ShekharStylistically an Indian film lately that's come closest to the master Werner Herzog's latest, Family Romance, LLC (that premiered on Mubi app) is Prateek Vats's Eeb Allay Ooo! (2019) — the title refers to the sound that the lead-character makes to ward off wild monkeys in posh New Delhi for a living.

This guy is an under-study of an actual veteran in the profession, who's been cast for the said role. Of course, there are many examples of Indian films with non-professional actors, right from Sairaat to Salaam Bombay; why, even Pather Panchali.

The lead character Ishii Yuichi in Herzog's Family Romance, LLC, though runs an agency that supplies stand-in human beings for anybody you want — from a father, work-mate, lottery-winning messenger, to the paparazzi. You could call them relationship equivalents of sex-workers, I guess.

In an ironic interpretation of acting that involves playing characters, Yuichi plays himself. He actually runs the agency the film in Japanese, set in Japan, is about. The situations before him, however, are fictional.

Therefore, he and others in his agency (who are also playing parts in the non-documentary film) are professional actors of another kind — off-camera anyway! Everything is shot completely guerilla-style, by Herzog himself — no recce, let alone shooting permits; the locations, on occasion, generating the script itself!

Who does that? Herzog, 78. Right from his first feature, Aguirre, Wrath Of God (1972; available on YouTube), an epic/period drama that basically involved actors living for days on rafts in an Amazon tributary, with no one in the cast, crew having any clue what lay ahead, in the next bend of the river. The script/situations progressed, depending on what did!

In the film's intro, Herzog calls Family Romance, LLC, his return to Aguirre. Although no such hard and fast rules apply, ideally one mustn't directly arrive at Family Romance, LLC, without having sampled some of Herzog, or getting a sense of his cinema first.

A lot of which seek/exude such a meditative quality, that you could warmly marinate in them (often with Herzog as the voice-over), staring blankly at the screen sometimes. And patiently absorb, rather than simply consume. I'm aware it's hard to explain this in three-act structural terms, or verbalise/intellectualise it, without sounding like a fart. But it works.

Intend to do just that, someday, checking off Herzog's entire filmography — that would mean 70 films, with a slant towards solid documentaries he's championed through his phenomenally prolific career. He's come close to death way too many times (been shot at, thrice). And yet remained unafraid to simply pick up the heavy camera of past decades, mount it in the craziest terrains, to quench his curiosity; explore the world, and simply express through cinema — by far the most laborious of all arts!

He's known for a distinctive voice. But he really has the eye — an interest in dreams seems to be a recurring theme. Being obsessed with obsessive characters is how he's been more widely described. I guess peering at the soul, or the relationship is still at the core of it all. Even in The Grizzly Man (2005), or Happy People: The Year in the Taiga (2010), where there are no people as such; it's about man, and the wild (animal).

Watching, inculcating, admiring Herzog, I'm discovering as we speak, can be a lifelong quest of its own. He calls himself a soldier of cinema, in pursuit of poetic/"ecstatic truth". In a manifesto in 1999, he delinked ecstatic truth from the popular, presiding realism of Cinema Verite — documentary style filmmaking, supposedly shorn of artifice — that he still found to be superficial and touristy! Eeb Aalay Ooo, I suspect, is still slightly Cinema Verite, exhilaratingly tending towards ecstatic truth.

What has Herzog achieved as a result? Document of our times, yes. But that would be any great filmography, which besides stories told in motion-pictures, reflect the times they were created/produced in.

Yet, if all current data got lost in the future, thanks to accidental outage in the Internet of life — as Herzog brilliantly, frighteningly explores in Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (2016) — just Herzog's films surviving outside a server in paper/cuneiform, might give the future man full sense of life in the present.

In the case of Family Romance, LLC, that would mean exploring 21st Century, as Herzog says he predicted in 1980, "A century of solitudes — the more we are connected, the existential solitudes increase."

The film's lead guy, Yuichi, pretends to be father to a 12-year-old girl, Mahiro. Her key concern is control of her Instagram account. She shows him a picture of a place she hasn't been to — claiming to pose in a beach in Bali. He shows her around as the father he's not. They're both happy in that moment. "She's lying to me; I'm lying to her," Yuichi tells Mahiro's mom. I can't stop thinking.

Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to mailbag@mid-day.com

The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper

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