Since it screened at the Northwest Film Center in May, I feel like I just wrote about Encounters at the End of the World, and did so in similarly adulatory terms. But that was a one-time screening inside the Portland Art Museum; this week, Encounters gets a proper theatrical run at Cinema 21. As I'm hard pressed to think of any film playing in town that I'd recommend more, here's another write-up.
Gorgeous and melancholy and surreal, Encounters is the result of director Werner Herzog's trip to Antarctica, where the National Science Foundation sent him to interview the brave, strange souls who work at the remote McMurdo research station, and explore the unforgiving, alien landscapes that stretch out around that tiny speck of civilization. Herzog's charmingly gloomy voiceover floats over cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger's stunning visuals of Antarctic volcanoes and the otherworldly ocean ecosystems that thrive underneath thick shelves of ice, and the filmmaker's usual mopey reflections set a tone that's at once uplifting and somber (he calls the Antarctic "a seemingly endless void" at the film's outset, and things only get more cheery from there).
Herzog, one of the most talented and daring filmmakers of the past four decades, usually goes into territory few else will, especially in his documentaries, like Grizzly Man and Little Dieter Needs to Fly. Encounters proves no different: Whether he's watching as scientists play an electric guitar concert on McMurdo's roof, or capturing the doomed, tottering journey of a rogue penguin wandering into the wilderness, Herzog's strange, brooding journey to the Antarctic is nothing short of astonishing.