Where others see freakshows, Werner Herzog finds poetry and wonder. These days, the German’s best films are documentaries. Earlier in his career, he made dramas with all the immediacy and sense of exploration of his later, now more familiar non-fiction. Based on true events, 1974’s ‘The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser’ begins with the old idea of the wise fool and takes it somewhere more mysterious and moving. Herzog cast wide-eyed, childlike Bruno S, a troubled street musician, as Hauser, a young man who appeared in the town square of Nuremberg in 1828 unable to speak and clutching a mysterious letter containing his name. After learning to talk, Kaspar told of being raised in a tiny cellar by an unknown captor.
Herzog asks more questions about the people whom Kaspar encounters than he answers about Kaspar himself, although he’s far from an academic creation. His experiences over the few years we spend with him – as polite German society variously treats him as a freak, an experiment and worthy of care and respect – are full of sadness and intrigue. The conflict between logic and the unknowable is as fascinating and exciting for us as it clearly is for Herzog.