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Where the Green Ants Dream (1984)

Between moving, visiting the fam and breezing through the all-too-short run of Freaks and Geeks on DVD, this is actually the first movie I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s one of Werner Herzog’s lesser known films, about a conflict between an Australian mining company and the local Aborigines, who see the mining site as sacred ground.

Where the Green Ants Dream is a gentle but oddly graceless film. The actors don’t play characters, but rather personifications of the different points of view surrounding the conflict. While they are rarely cartoons, the scenes of interaction between the characters range from clunky to embarrassing. Herzog is too much the unsentimental humanist to let the film devolve into stereotypes of noble savages and evil capitalists, but for some reason he’s also never able to make the conflict seem like it involves actual human beings instead of abstractions, and I really think this movie needed that to feel grounded. Herzog has often spoken of his cinema as the search for the “ecstatic truth”, but I think the issues he tackles here may be too tied-up with politics and philosophy for anything so pure.

On the other hand, there are some nearly sublime moments of Herzogian brilliance, mostly involving a beautiful green Caribou transport airplane which is parked in the middle of the outback and becomes a kitchen, meeting room, and observation post for the Aborigines. And of course, stunning shots of the outback, which is as Herzogian a landscape as you could imagine.