El Dorado (1988)

Saura’s account of Spain’s quest for Peruvian gold differs from Herzog’s Aguirre, Wrath of God in intention and budget. Loopy Lope de Aguirre and his conquistadors sail themselves up a creek without gold or paddle, decimated by unseen assailants, hostile environs, exhausted provisions, and mad, merciless self-slaughter. Aguirre (the excellent Antonutti) is a tired 50-year-old way down the military pecking order; if voice-overs suggest he sees himself as God’s instrument, Saura portrays his murderous deeds asa product of the clashing forces of Spanish society. His attempt to demythologise this folie de grandeur within the conventions of the big budget epic (at $9 million, Spain’s most expensive film to date) excels in evoking the destructive effects of sexual jealousy, envy, greed and the Spanish obsession with death. But despite lush ‘Scope photography and the meticulous display of authentic armour and finery, the film is often oppressive, and too dependent on faces to communicate meaning, adding obscurity to something already complex and ambiguous. Not Saura’s best, perhaps, but a fascinating attempt to get to the heart of myths, men and history.

Gabriela Roel