Review by Sean Boelman
Werner Herzog is a very idiosyncratic filmmaker with an extremely eclectic filmography, and his newest documentary Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin adds yet another unique entry into his repertoire. Offering a truly different approach to the biographical documentary, Herzog’s documentary is fascinating even if you aren’t familiar with Chatwin’s work.
In the film, Herzog reflects on his friendship with legendary writer Bruce Chatwin by tracing parts of Chatwin’s journeys and studying the philosophies by which he lived. In focusing more on who Chatwin was than what he did, Herzog connects the audience with his subject more than any linear presentation of his life events ever would.
Herzog stresses many times over the course of the movie that he is not the subject, Chatwin is, and although some of the interviewees seemed to be confused by this prospect, Herzog’s clear vision is able to bring that idea to life. The amount of respect he has for Chatwin and his work is obvious and infectious.
What makes Herzog’s films so fascinating is the unique lens through which he views the world. Even in his less stirring features, the way in which he interacts with different cultures is absolutely fascinating. However, the thing that is so distinctive about Nomad is that the perspective from which he presents the movie is not exclusively his own, but rather, a combination of his and Chatwin’s.
One of the most magnificent things about the film is the way in which it inspires a sense of curiosity and wonder in the viewer. Chatwin’s writing is notable for bringing other cultures to the rest of the world in an empathetic way. Herzog’s movie follows in the same vein quite well, presenting the people of the world in a compelling light.
The film is less than ninety minutes long, and admittedly, it does jump around a lot. However, Herzog’s poetic approach to filmmaking really shines throughout the documentary and meshes well with Chatwin’s eloquent use of words. Yes, it’s a travelogue at its core, but it is also a love letter to the feeling of discovery that inspired Chatwin’s work.
This is also an absolutely gorgeous movie to look at. The cinematography by Louis Caulfield and Mike Paterson is stunning, especially when the film is following Herzog on his journey across the world. Herzog’s use of archive materials is also excellent, with recordings of Chatwin’s readings frequently being used as voiceover to draw parallelisms between his explorations and those of Herzog.
Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin is absolutely wonderful. Thanks to Herzog’s creative and thoughtful approach, this will stand out as one of the most impressive biographical documentaries of the genre.
Nomad: In the Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin is now screening online in partnership with indie theaters. A list of participating locations can be found here.