Cobra Verde (1987)

Klaus Kinski plays the lead role in this interesting, lesser known work of director Werner Herzog. Anchor Bay UK R2 boxset release.

The Film

Cobra Verde (Klaus Kinski) is a Brazilian bandit who has tormented people around the country for years. He finds work for a sugar plantation owner, overlooking the slaves, but quickly makes enemies after impregnating the owner's three daughters. Too scared to try and punish him, they decide to send Cobra Verde to Africa hoping that he would either get killed, or manage to find them more slaves. Arriving in Africa he makes contact with the King and is sent slaves, but his Brazilian partners renege on the deal, and he finds himself sentenced to death...

Cobra Verde is based on a largely fictional novel by Bruce Chatwin. It presents an interesting view of the slave trade, showing that many Africans were complicit, although the film generally avoids any political proclamations. We are also treated to a rather unique view of uncolonised Africa, with the eccentric kings and bizarre customs. Unfortunately, the storyline is too too sparse to fill the film's lengthy runtime and the film drags on in many scenes; at the same time, missing out on lots of opportunities for characterisation. Cobra Verde is the only real character throughout the film, dozens of interesting characters pop-up, but disappear just as fast.

Herzog's direction here is rather average. While Aguirre (1972) had an impressive documentary feel, Nosferatu (1979) was beautifully stylised, Woyzeck (1979) was shot like a stage play with very long takes, and Fitzcarraldo (1982) had some wonderful shots;
Cobra Verde resembles a typical Hollywood film for much of its runtime. Herzog's favourite cinematographer Thomas Mauch left the film very early after being terroristed by Kinski, and was replaced by the solid but uninspired Viktor Ruzicka. There are some nice images and some very impressive set-pieces - he rounds up an entire army of fighting women in one scene - but the standard looking direction diminishes the impact of these scenes. Florian Fricke provides an interesting but limited soundtrack that is missing in several scenes where it would have been helpful.

Klaus Kinski plays his last leading role in a Herzog film, and one of the last leading roles he would ever play. He looks tired and worn with long unkempt hair - an appearance that does suit the role perfectly. The rest of the cast are mostly unknowns, although they play their roles well.

Cobra Verde is the least of the five Herzog/Kinski partnerships. For the most part, the direction is nothing more than average and while many of Herzog's films survive with only a very slight storyline, boosted by impressive visuals, Cobra Verde really needed a better plot to back it up. Fans of Herzog or Kinski might want to watch this, but it is certainly not recommended to newcomers to the duo, and generally not recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Klaus Kinski - One of the biggest names in Euro-cult cinema, most famous for his 5 films with Herzog.
Directed by anyone interesting? Werner Herzog - one of European cinema's best directors with a powerful artistic vision in all his films.
Any violence/gore? Some mild violence.
Any sex? Lots of National Geographic nudity and several sex references.
Who is it for?
Might be of interest to Herzog/Kinski fans, although not a good starting place and not recommended.
Good soundtrack?A nice ethinc score from Florian Fricke, although it is not used enough in the film.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.77:1 Anamorphic Widescreen. Colour.
Although the print looks good, with no damage, the transfer is very poor - the images are very soft and artifacts are noticable even to a casual viewer.
Audio German 5.1, and stereo. English stereo. Both tracks sound good, with good stereo seperation, although 5.1 is rather flat.
Subtitles English - transcribes the English track. There are notable differences between this and the German dialogue.
AvailabilityAvailable in the Herzog Kinski collection boxset only.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Audio Commentary with Herzog and moderator Norman Hill. Detailed and interesting.
  • Original cinema trailer English and German audio and English subtitles.
  • Talent bios of Kinski and Herzog.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Anchor Bay R1 DVD - sharper print.
Cuts? None known. German language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 18th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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