Werner Herzog's "Kaspar Hausar: Every Man for Himself and God Against All" is one of the great films of the 1970s. Haunting and poetic, Herzog's masterpiece explored one of history's unsolved mysteries: In Nuremberg, Germany in 1828, an illiterate adolescent boy appeared out of nowhere in the village square. Lacking any knowledge of spoken language and bereft of family and history, the boy possessed only a note identifying him as Kaspar Hausar.
Herzog's interpretation of Kaspar's ill-fated life cast him as the perpetual outsider, with rich people perceiving him as a trendy freak to be adopted, and ordinary people suspicious and distrustful of anyone who was different from them. The movie also dealt beautifully with the nature of identity, as Kaspar struggles to conform to the civilized world, and goes about the business of creating a present to replace the childhood he spent confined in a dark barn.
Kaspar's story is as much myth as mystery, and a new film about his life indulges lavishly in elaborate conspiracy theories. You see, one school of historians believes that Kaspar was the rightful heir to the throne of Baden, and was kidnapped as an infant by scheming enemies across the border in Bavaria. Director Peter Sehr's "Kaspar Hausar," which screened in the 1994 San Francisco International Film Festival and finally returns Friday, January 19 for a week at the Castro Theatre, subscribes fully to this view.
Sehr dives headlong into palace intrigue and post-Napoleonic power plays with a giddy enthusiasm. As lush and sensual as Herzog's film was spare and meditative, this "Kaspar Hausar" has a "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" kind of fascination. And also a horror, like Robin Leach's travelogues of depravity. For there is no shortage of corruption in this palace.
Nor does this new interpretation of Kaspar's life flinch from his tragedy. He still endures the pain of discovering who he is and that he lost the royal birthright at the hands of kidnappers. And as long as Kaspar lives, he represents a threat to those who cherish his seat on the throne. An enthralling film, the new "Kaspar Hausar," like its predecessor, never loses sight of its protagonist's sweet-natured innocence. In a corrupt, brutal world naivete like Kaspar's always proves fatal.
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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