My Best Fiend (1999)

Rating: B

Dir: Werner Herzog
Star: Klaus Kinski, Claudia Cardinale, Justo González, Eva Mattes

If ever there was a cinematic version of the irresistible force meeting the immovable object, it’s to be found in the relationship between Werner Herzog and the late Kinski. This documentary revisits it, with the aid of archive footage and reminiscences from co-workers, though mostly Herzog himself. This intrinsic bias is amusingly obvious: in one breath Herzog professes himself to be “clinically sane”, in the next he describes his plan to murder Kinski by firebomb! Along with the much touted Amazonian incident where Herzog threatened to shoot his leading man if he left the set, you begin to wonder who was madder, despite awesome, near-incandescent footage of Kinski in full-on rant mode.

Yet, death-threats aside, there is genuine respect in Herzog, and after all, on one occasion he did decline the offer of an Amazonian tribe to kill Klaus! The pair worked together on multiple movies, and the two had more in common than at first sight: Herzog was just as much the character Fitzcarraldo as Kinski. Another surprise was that the two women interviewed, including Cardinale, have only praise for Kinski, despite his reputed (admittedly largely self-engendered) appetite for the fair sex — it seems you were either with him or against him. But perhaps the most telling moment was Herzog’s anecdote about when Kinski accused him of being a megalomaniac. “That,” replied the director, “makes two of us…” The thin line between genius and madness has rarely been more perfectly demonstrated.