Woyzeck (1979)

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

The Film

Franz Woyzeck (Klaus Kinski) is a private in the army. Insulted and tortured by his army seniors; trying to supplement his income by being a guinea pig for a twisted scientist; and being betrayed by his wife, he is slowly driven into a muderous insanity...

Woyzeck is based on a stage play, written by German writer George Büchner in 1836, and left incomplete after his early death. The play remains as a series of 27 unordered fragments; for the screenplay, Herzog takes all but two of these scenes and works them into a logical (but debated) order, remaining very faithful to the text. The main focus of the story is on the tragic figure of Woyzeck and serves as a commentary on the treatment of the working class - in order to make enough money to stay alive, Woyzeck has to be subservient to his army masters and give up his dignity to the probing scientist - ultimately when the upper class officer starts to approach his woman, he knows that he is powerless to stop him - with one exception. The film retains the relatively slow pacing of a stage play throughout, but never drags.

Herzog's direction is interesting in its absence: most of the scenes are presented in 4 minute single takes, usually with an unmoving camera and almost no stylisation. Essentially, this gives the film the ambience of a stage-play, and allows the viewer to focus entirely on the storyline, which is interesting enough to support the film. Similarly, the soundtrack is very sparse, only at the start of the film, and the climax towards the end - in keeping with the 17th Century feel, it is a harpsichord/string instrument theme.

Klaus Kinski plays the lead role here, and the part could well have been written just for him. Although he often played characters bordering on the edge of insanity, he rarely played such a subservient role and it is strange to see him completely humiliated and looked down upon by the other characters - despite this, he performs with such distinction that is would be impossible to imagine the film, or even the play, could be half as good without him. Eva Mattes as his woman had just appeared in Herzog's Stroszeck (1977) and gives an equally good performance here. Look out for euro-cult regular Herbert Fux as an army officer.

Woyzeck is the least known of the five Herzog/Kinski partnerships, the play it is based on has little resonance outside Germany and so the film was not seen much outside of its home country. If you have enjoyed the other Herzog/Kinski films, then this is certainly worth checking out, but not the best pace to start. For anyone interested in the play then this film is probably the best way to see it, as close to the original intention as possible. Partly 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? Some very strong hints, but no nudity.
Who is it for?
This film should be of interest to Herzog/Kinski fans, although not a good starting place.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.66:1 Anamorphic widescreen. Colour.
The print is of a good quality, with minimal damage for the most part, but some notable damage in a couple of scenes. Always watchable.
Audio German mono, sounds fine.
Subtitles English - translates the German track.
AvailabilityAvailable in the Herzog Kinski collection boxset and as a single disc release.
Extras The disc includes:
  • Original cinema trailer German audio and English subtitles.
  • Photo gallery, manual scrolling - mostly publicity shots.
  • Talent bios of Kinski and Herzog.
  • Onscreen film notes (excerpt from the book Herzog on Herzog)
Region Region 0 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Anchor Bay R1 DVD - sharper print, but no photo gallery or notes. German R2 DVD - includes audio commentary.
Cuts? None known. German language print.



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All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 17th August 2006.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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