Echoes From A Somber Empire

Echoes is Herzog’s utterly captivating Capturing The Friedmans-style jigsaw puzzle concerning Jean-Bédel Bokassa, former dictator of the Central African Republic, and Michael Goldsmith, (the film’s atypical “host”, rather than Herzog himself), a European journalist captured and tortured by Bokassa’s regime. At first, only momentary scraps of information are revealed: testimony by Bokassa’s current wife, casual reminiscences from his many, many children, and file footage from his exile in France — deliberately giving you the impression that Bokassa could be simply an upstanding puppet of colonialism. But, as Herzog criss-crosses the historical narrative, he delicately peels back layer after layer of the Bokassa onion (arbitrary executions — impostor daughters — casual cannibalism?!?!), letting a wildly complex, unforgettable portrait of a despotic madman bubble to the surface. Deeply unsettling from its opening “dream sequence” (a tableaux of migrating Christmas Island crabs, later re-used by Herzog in Invincible) right down to its impossible-to-forget final image, Echoes is possibly the greatest discovery of this entire series.

Dir. Werner Herzog, 1990, DigiBeta, 93 min.

Watch an excerpt from “Echoes From A Somber Empire”!

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