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Werner Herzog takes 'La Boheme' to Ethiopia in short film

September 2, 2009 |  9:30 am

Leave it to stubbornly iconoclastic filmmaker Werner Herzog to breathe new life into the well-worn score of Puccini's "La Bohème."

In a new short film that will screen this week at the Venice Film Festival, Herzog takes the love duet "O Soave Fanciulla" ("Oh Gentle Angel") from Act One of the opera and sets it to images of the Mursi people in southwest Ethiopia.

The film is part of a project sponsored by the English National Opera and the satellite channel Sky Arts in which directors were asked to reimagine an operatic number in purely visual terms. (The other filmmakers involved with the project are artist Sam Taylor-Wood and music-video director Dougal Wilson.)

Herzog's four-minute film takes place in a parched desert environment. Four tribal couples take turns staring into the camera, then face each other before going their separate ways. Their actions are observed by a group of elders holding rifles.

The director said in a published interview that "when I see someone else's opera production ... I see images out there in direct contradiction to those in my head." Herzog has directed several opera productions in Europe, but his best-known works remain his hallucinatory epic films such as "Fitzcarraldo" and "Aguirre, the Wrath of God."

The above video shows a brief clip from Herzog's film. 

-- David Ng

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