The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle)(Every Man for Himself and God Against All) Reviews
The film tells the true story of Kaspar Hauser, a teenager who showed up one day in a town in Germany, holding a note saying he wants to be in the cavalry, like his father was. His father's name, nor any other details are given.
Kaspar Hauser is played by Bruno S, who does giver a very good performance as Hauser. The way Bruno S uses his body to convey that simple tasks, such as walking and holding a spoon the right way, are difficult for him, is truly incredible. Bruno S injects Hauser with the right sense of mystery and the right sense of needing to be re-taught how to ride a bike, so to speak.
As mentioned earlier, there's very little enigma discussed. Sure, it gets mentioned, but these mentions feel like throwaway lines, such as when various town officials are addressing rumors he could be an illegitimate heir to Baden ( a province in Germany) or an illegitimate heir to Napoleon.
Werner Herzog seems completely uninterested in presenting the film as a mystery. Instead, he opts for something more philosophical. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but shouldn't a film with the word enigma in the title actually discuss an enigma?
In Hauser, Herzog found the necessary vehicle to show how (I quote a critic here) "the drive toward domestication is the drive toward death". In reality, Hauser's story is more mystery than meaning but here Herzog and Hauser give us a clearer image of Hauser that allows the story to develop with its own personality as opposed to simply being a re-hashing of old events. It isn't however perfect- it's more faithful to the real story than it needs to be and we are left with some of the same unknowns that the true story has. To me, these feel separate from the meaning and spirit of the film and weaken what is otherwise, a strong offering from Herzog.
It lacks the stand-out scenes that Herzog is so known for- here they are replaced with a full story and thus a more conventional film structure-wise than his works beforehand but the subject matter is as odd as what you'd expect from Herzog and the points being made are also right out of his mind. The humour is there too and it does a great job in stopping this from ever feeling like a stuffy period piece.
Herzog's critiquing is in full swing here and Hauser allows the points to be made in a truly memorable way. Yet again Herzog manages to fit himself in here fully without ever making it feel like he is pushing us, breathing down our neck or holding our hands to get to where he wants to go. It's a pity that there was a real Hauser as Herzog clearly stuck to true events for a lot of this but this film didn't need that- Hauser never needed to be real historically, the performance by Bruno S. made him real and the supporting cast made Herzog's reality of this world, our one too- we didn't need the added confusion of learning the mysteries around the real Hauser's existence and even if we wanted that, this film views Hauser's claims at face value when they were likely lies- that makes Hauser an even more fascinating character to study, but it's not what this film is about, nor should it be.
Herzog would have had all that he needed with any abandoned child, choosing a real one feels like an uncharacteristic (this is the guy who straight up makes things up in documentaries!) blunder by Herzog.
Recommended to anyone, Herzog fan or not- it is accessible and easy to watch but has worthwhile things behind the surface to consider. More time could have been spent on developing points though rather than including elements from the real Kaspar Hauser's story.