Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin

Werner Herzog is a machine. Having directed 63 films (and counting) in his 76 years on the planet, with no signs of stopping. He cranks out documentaries and narratives annually it seems, and I implore you to name me one BAD Herzog film, and I will be able to tell you exactly why you are dead wrong. That being said, there are films I would describe as “greater” Herzog and for lack of a better term, “smaller” Herzog. Films like Fitzcarraldo, Fata Morgana, Nosferatu, Little Dieter Needs to Fly, and so, so many others go into the “greater” category. I would place Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin in the “smaller” one.

This is not discounting the film. I enjoyed it. It just isn’t as grand in scale as say Grizzly Man for example. It’s more of a personal voyage in nostalgia and a love letter to his departed friend, writer, and archaeologist Bruce Chatwin. Bruce Chatwin passed away from AIDS in 1989. He and Herzog were great friends, and in Nomad, Herzog visits a series of locales that are featured in Chatwin’s books. Some of them include Punta Arenas, Chile; Silbury Hill, Wiltshire England (site of one of the largest neolithic structures in the world still standing), and the Australian outback.

“…a personal voyage in nostalgia and a love letter to his departed friend, writer, and archaeologist Bruce Chatwin.”

We learn a lot about Chatwin and his travels. This was interesting for me because I haven’t read any of his books. It was fascinating to discover that Cobra Verde was based on Chatwin’s book The Viceroy of Ouidah.  I imagine for fans of Chatwin that this would be a fantastic opportunity to see more into his personal life. Bruce’s wife, Elizabeth, is interviewed throughout, as well as Chatwin’s biographer Nicholas Shakespeare. The thing that I loved the most about this film is learning about Herzog and Chatwin’s personal camaraderie. We see a softer, much less utilitarian side of the German director in this film.  

The most important things we learn in this film are Chatwin’s ideas and theories about the world, which are far too numerous to name here. He was fascinated by the world in all its complexities. He also shared a viewpoint with Herzog that traveling by walking was almost a spiritual awakening of sorts, which is where their friendship sprung from. They were so close that on Chatwin’s deathbed, Bruce asked Werner to kill him because he couldn’t take the pain anymore. He also gave his ubiquitous leather rucksack to Werner, which he carries to this day and has featured in films.

“…a great look into the personal lives of Chatwin and Herzog, and for that, it is worth seeing.”

This documentary is a great look into the personal lives of Chatwin and Herzog, and for that, it is worth seeing. There are a little bit too many drone shots for my liking, but for the most part, the cinematography is beautiful. As in most of Herzog’s films, the music is incredible, and there’s even a whole segment of Nomad about Aboriginal tribes and their ritualistic singing, called Song Lines. It’s a special way of singing that tells the story of the land where the tribes lived. It’s extremely moving and because it’s Herzog, very existential.

I think that fans of Herzog’s and Chatwin’s or either/or would love this documentary. It might be harder to convince some random person off the street who doesn’t know who either man is to sit through the entire documentary. It’s okay that it’s not for everyone. The film is intimate and like I said before..small. However, in some ways, it’s larger than life, just as both the director and its subject.

Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin (2019) Written and Directed by Werner Herzog. Featuring Nicholas Shakespeare, Elizabeth Chatwin, Karen Eberhard, Glenn Morrison, Peter Bartlett, Robin Granits

7 out of 10

 

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