Sunday, 21 February 2016


A giant leap for Werner Herzog, disguised as a small step. Exotic historical epics are the kind of project his career was built upon, yet they always possessed a fierce, angular, unhinged contrariness, as if born out of the fires of blazing creation, new and unformed. Queen of the Desert is calm and smooth, born out of a simmering smoulder, contrary only to one's expectations of what Herzog might concoct out of such a promising premise. It's an exercise in cultural excavation, though whereas our protagonist Gertrude Bell sought to understand the cultures of the Middle East's native tribes, Herzog seeks to understand that of a landscape equally foreign to him - Hollywood. This is a straight-up recreation of a classic Hollywood epic, albeit shot through with an occasional jolt of Herzogian weirdness, weirdly sporadic. In this, one senses our director's inquisitiveness, inspired and informed by Bell's inquisitiveness; it's buried beneath layers of glossy period design, and it's intellectually shallow, but it exists all the same, and does so to give Queen of the Desert an identifiable purpose. Alas, otherwise this film is in rather desperate need of depth, struck down by too many technical distractions. Herzog is still seeking to understand by the end, I feel, never truly settling on his subject to display any real insight. The dialogue leaves much to be desired - ditto performances from James Franco and Robert Pattinson - though excerpts from Bell's diaries read in voiceover by Nicole Kidman provide poetic relief, and contribute notably toward the timbre of this undeniably artful period piece. Between the expansive visuals and the immersive sound, one appreciates the detail which has been put into this recreation, in its partially successful attempt at meaningful, memorable cultural excavation.