Directed by Werner Herzog
Describe a Werner Herzog movie and you usually start “It’s about this crazy guy who…” The veteran of the New German Cinema has made a career filming stories about monomaniacs and the extremes of human experience and landscape.
The journeys and settings can be so intense that they evoke the mystical, the scenes often trance-like. His documentaries are of a piece with his fiction, and White Diamond is about one man’s mission: Dr. Graham Dorrington wants to fly his special balloon in the jungles of Guyana.
The boyish Dorrington is milder than most Herzog heroes but has his torment in the form of a cameraman’s death 11 years ago in an earlier airship. The contrast between his science-whiz zeal and morose recollections of guilt is striking and provides the underlying psychodrama, as primal as dreams (hopes of flying, fears of falling).
The film progresses with educational bits and test flights before floating off, almost Ross McElwee-style, for jungle tangents. Herzog, who narrates and appears, becomes attracted to a towering waterfall that conceals an unexplored cave and becomes his touchstone for mystery and the unattainable.
Although the views of the jungle and wildlife are wondrous, Dorrington is not so absorbing a presence, even when Herzog, true to form, provokes him by calling one plan a “stupid stupidity.” It’s almost too late by the time the director refocuses on a Rastafarian assistant named Mark Anthony, whose pacific air and melancholy backstory captivate.
Still, moment to moment, White Diamond puts the clumsy pandering of most docs to shame, and Herzog’s mastery comes out in his ability to keep us off balance and his sense of mysterious rhythms.
Opens June 1 at Film Forum