Herzog’s 1967 short film Last Words is the story of a man’s forcible insurrection from a leper colony on the small Island of Spinalonga to mainland Crete. The film contains an all-Greek cast, of what appear to be non-actors, recalling their interaction with this stranger whose legend is instantaneous with his arrival. Herzog moves from Greek mythology (as Herakles suggested) to a modern kind of Greek folklore, with a picturesque seaside Crete and a soundtrack of opulent native music (performed by the stranger and another local man) that give the film a rich lyrical quality.
The strange man, who we are told does not speak, tells us himself, in repetition “I do not speak” and the locals who speak of him also tell his story by repeating their lines over and over again. The repetition of words make the characters seem like they are both performing and rehearsing simultaneously. Like take after take being recorded and played back in succession.
The film experiments with time in a manner that history appears presently, though it is referred to as the past. The camera lens creates a mirror that bounces the characters reflections back onto them to interact with, though they are confined to repeat their reflections. The only independent, free-moving interface is music.
Last Words is much like what has become known as the Greek “weird wave” in which films like Dogtooth, Alps and Babis Makridis’ L belong – L especially evokes the lyrical and yet displaced storytelling quality of Last Words and has characters repeating themselves over and over. I am also reminded of The Legend Of Kaspar Hauser, which screened at MIFF this year, also shot in black & white on Mediterranean islands and suggesting music as a superior language to words in the substance of human exchange. Herzog’s own The Enigma Of Kaspar Hauser, which he would make 7 years later, comes to mind but in the case of Last Words, Herzog has created his own legend.