Where the Green Ants Dream (Werner Herzog / Australia-West Germany, 1984):
(Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen)

The title is the folkloric incantation that stands in the way of mining tractors. "Why the fuck can’t they dream somewhere else?!" Werner Herzog looks for hills on the flat Australian outback, and finds them -- mounds of white construction dirt dot the orange desert floor as the sacred grounds of the aborigines are dynamited for uranium. The tribe elders (Wandjuk and Roy Marika) sit impassively before bulldozers, the machines muscle up to them but halt at the last minute, the men calmly move their resistance a few inches away. Bribes from the company can’t keep the matter out of court, the man in the middle is a local geologist (Bruce Spence) filled with good intentions and "silly questions." Modern civilization ("progressing into nothingness") is variously compared to a runaway train, a frazzled student surrounded by nuns, and a planet dangling from a noose. The aborigines, meanwhile, are silent, deep, and spiritual, with a mask of primitive nobility that’s allowed to crack briefly when one of the chiefs smiles and mouths the words to a waiter’s song at a Greek restaurant. With oppositions this clear-cut, Herzog’s admiration for taciturn natives can’t escape a hint of paternalism, of the well-intentioned colonial observer passing through. Like Ford in Cheyenne Autumn, the director’s eye shifts from the indigenous totem poles being celebrated to the less waxen eccentrics swarming in the sidelines: The wizened expert gleefully describing the magnetic dimension of the titular insects, the octogenarian (Colleen Clifford) waiting under a parasol for her missing beagle, the air force veteran (Gary Williams) suspended between races (and between sky and ground) and mumbling "My Baby Does the Hanky Panky" while preparing to pilot a jumbo plane into the void. A tribe’s last survivor on the witness stand is utterly disconnected from the world, the elder’s peroration is interrupted by the chiming of a disobedient alarm-watch; a tornado coils and stretches across the screen, beautifully, on its way to Gummo. Cinematography by Jörg Schmidt-Reitwein. With Norman Kaye, Ralph Cotterill, Nick Lathouris, and Basil Clarke.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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