As a filmmaker, Werner Herzog has more in common with the intrepid explorer-cineastes of the silent era than with anyone working today. Herzog, who maintains that “humiliation and strain” are essential parts of his creative process, has specialized in movies resulting from some self-imposed ordeal, both for him and his associates. Typically shot in difficult locations (jungles, mountains, deserts) or under bizarre conditions (with the entire cast hypnotized), nearly all of his fiction films have documentary subtexts; most of his documentaries, which are among the most subjective in movie history, involve an element of physical risk.
These avant-garde National Geographic adventures, gathered together at Film Forum for a three-week sojourn into the director’s outer limits, range in location from the slopes of an active volcano ( La Soufriére) to the fires of post–Desert Storm Kuwait (Lessons of Darkness) to the prisons of the Central African Republic ( Echoes From a Somber Empire). In addition to extreme landscapes, they include portraits of Herzogian soul mates: obsessive ski-jump champs, ranting televangelists, and megalomaniacal actors (namely Klaus Kinski), as well as the doomed, bear-loving protagonist of Grizzly Man.
Herzog, who dismisses “so-called cinema vérité” as “the truth of accountants,” maintains that his own documentaries are predicated on “imagination” and “fabrication.” Not surprisingly, he’s drawn to the fervor of religious pilgrimages (in Mexico, Russia, India, and Roswell, New Mexico) and has more than once sought to document the undocumentable—desert mirages in Fata Morgana, the world of the blind and deaf in Land of Silence and Darkness. Many of these docs have not always been seeable. Film Forum, which has been showcasing Herzog for decades, casts a wide net, augmenting his best-known documentaries with some that are virtually unknown. There are also several portraits of the artist, who will attend select screenings and has added further context by selecting a number of nonfiction films by kindred spirits Chris Marker, Jean Rouch, Ulrich Seidl, and Errol Morris. Herzog (Non)Fiction, May 18 through June 7, Film Forum.
Werner Herzog will screen material from his made-in-Antarctica documentary-in-progress, Encounters at the End of the World, and will also be on hand to encounter his audience. The event is free but you must RSVP (212-439-8700). May 19, 1:30 p.m., Goethe-Institut New York.
Claude Chabrol’s 1978 account of the infamous French teenager who led a sexual dou-ble life, plotted to kill her parents, and, with her trial, became a Surrealist heroine, is an exceed-ingly dark comedy that afforded Isabelle Huppert one of her greatest performances. Terrific as it is, Violette has been long unavailable in any format, including 16mm; although the image seems slightly cropped, Koch Lorber’s DVD is a welcome corrective. kochlorberfilms.com.
White Nights, an excellent mid-period Visconti, gets a rare screening. This 1957 feature neo-realizes the poignant Dostoyevsky novella (subsequently adapted by Bresson in Four Nights of a Dreamer). Mar- cello Mastroianni stars as the unrequited lover, a performance that led to his career- making role in La Dolce Vita. May 16, 8:15 p.m., Walter Reade.