Twitter Plot Summary: Vagabond Cobra Verde is sent to Africa to engage with the local king about resuming slave trade activities.
Five Point Summary:
1. To Africa!
2. Bundled up like a corpse.
3. Some metaphor about snakes.
4. He’s quite the promiscuous chap.
5. That boat’s not going anywhere mate.
Kinski and Herzog reunited one final time in 1987’s Cobra Verde, and once again proved that, despite their love/hate relationship, their partnership managed to inspire the best performances out of both of them, be it in front of or behind the camera. Explosive their relationship may have been, but it always resulted in some frankly excellent cinema.
Klaus Kinski, rocking an impressive hair metal head of hair, is Cobra Verde, a criminal with a penchant for getting women pregnant. True to form, Verde is a character who is constantly on the verge of having a full angry breakdown, and at several points in the story his raging insanity is unleashed on what were probably completely unsuspecting and mostly startled locals. He is a man who wants it all, beholden to nobody unless circumstances dictate it.
Much like many of their earlier collaborations, Cobra Verde sees Kinski’s titular character sent over to Africa in order to resume a slave trade with King Bossa Ahadee of Dahomey (quite a mouthful). Of course, those who have sent Cobra Verde to Africa know that the trip will likely not end well (ironically enough, so does he), and sincerely hope that Verde will be murdered by the king. Their plan stems from Verde impregnating the three daughters of sugar plantation owner Don Octavio Coutinho, although in a deliberate show of irony Verde’s exile to Africa ends up with him fathering more than 60 illegitimate children with the local women.
It perhaps lacks the focus of their earlier movies, not helped by the fact it’s essentially the same story we’ve seen before in Aguirre: Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, that of the white man out of his element in a foreign land and surrounded by those he would consider to be beneath him on a cultural and intellectual level. Moments of humour arise when Verde is rescued by rivals to the king who wants Verde’s head, and one of his rescuers has a tendency to stare into the middle distance with a ridiculous level of intensity. Herzog continues to treat everyone as documentary subjects, which helps combat the problem of the locals looking at the camera on several occasions.
Death is a recurring motif throughout, specifically death in order to maintain power both in the “civilised” West and the “barbaric” African continent. In Africa the skulls of previously vanquished enemies litter the ground and act as warnings to all who see them. It also follows the old theme of Kinski’s character improving his own personal circumstances by manipulating those around him, even if the end result is that it may or may not all come down around him. Of course there is the obvious theme regarding the perils of engaging in the slave trade, and the inhumanity to other living beings that is inherent to the slavery trade. Unfortunately this point isn’t emphasised nearly enough, and whilst it is central to the narrative, the core strand of Verde being a man who finds himself struggling against the forces holding him back is what it’s arguably really all about.