Mini-Review: Klaus Kinski is a Deranged Slave Trader in Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde (1987)

cobra verde
Francisco Manoel da Silva or simply Cobra Verde (Klaus Kinski) is a famous bandit, who is mistakenly hired by a rich sugar plantation owner, Don Octávio Coutinho (José Lewgoy). After Cobra gets all three of Coutinho’s daughters pregnant, the Don decides that it’s time to get rid of the horny bastard. Since Cobra is considered a very dangerous man, he can’t simply kill him. Instead he decides to send him to Africa to pick up some slaves, which is basically a suicide mission. Of course Cobra is crazy enough to accept. 

Werner Herzog’s Cobra Verde is based Bruce Chatwin’s novel The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980). This was a troubled production and the last one of Herzog’s starring Klaus Kinski. The German actor notoriously had some serious anger issues, which he took out on Herzog and the film crew and even caused cinematographer Thomas Mauch to leave the project. Kinski and Herzog’s odd relationship is further explored in his 1999 documentary My Best Friend (Mein liebster Feind – Klaus Kinski, literally My Dearest Enemy – Klaus Kinski).

Thomas Mauch was replaced Viktor Růžička who proves to be a worthy substitute. Some of the vistas and landscapes he shoots are quite simply breathtaking. The more action-oriented battle scenes are choreographed and photographed just as competently. The great imagery is accompanied by an equally spectacular score courtesy of German electronic avant-garde band Popol Vuh, providing a beautiful classical score. Additional music comes from folkloristic tribal songs, mostly from Ghana and of course you can’t have a Werner Herzog film without some choral music.

Cobra Verde is a technical achievement on possibly every level. The acting is solid and sincere for the most part. However, compared to other Werner Herzog films, and the man has crafted more than one masterpiece, this film feels a bit “lackluster”, in the sense that you would expect more from him. A lot of the themes explored here (obsession, madness and the pursuit of purpose) are discussed in a more satisfactory way in other films. This is not to say that Cobra Verde is a shallow film, but it just feels like something’s missing.

Maybe the problem is in the structure of the film or maybe it’s the lack of one single relatable character. While Kinski is a charismatic actor, seeing him being just constantly angry, does get a bit tiring after a while. As my brother noticed: His facial expression doesn’t ever really change throughout most of the film. He was still able to transmit emotion and subtle nuance through little gestures, but he never really lets you in. It’s detached performance, which again, maybe has to do with all the drama going on during the production of this film.

7 out of 10


  1. elifakcali

    I am a Herzog fan, but I haven’t seen this one yet. I prefer his documentaries to his fiction films. Somehow even in fiction, it feels as if he is after documenting ‘something’. Especially his films with Kinski, -as is obvious from My Best Fiend- are also significant in terms of documenting the actor. Both are extremely odd characters, by the way!

    • Davide Perretta

      Great comment and excellent point! I think the films he did with Kinski are almost a genre in themselves, it’s weird, but they all feel the same and slightly different from other Herzog films. It’s like he’s such an overpowering presence that he almost absorbs everything in the film and his characters are different and yet the same.

  2. elifakcali

    Exactly, totally agree with you about the ‘overpowering presence’. Another thing is I am not even sure how to evaluate Kinski as an actor; it feels as if his natural self shows through the characters he performs, but that is not always a bad thing, especially when Herzog is directing. That is probably why I think they have a documentary feel.

    Speaking of odd characters, have you seen this:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s