Release Date: December 17th, 1976
Duration: 94 mins.
Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Herbert Achternbusch (Script/Scenario),
Starring: Josef Bierbichler (Hias), Stefan Guttler (Huttenbesitzer), Clemens Scheitz (Adalbert), Volker Prechtel (Wudy), Sonja Skiba (Ludmilla), Brunhilde Kickner (Paulin)
“A prophet is rarely welcome in their homeland” is a line from the Bible that can be applied here as a lonely cowherd predicts an apocalypse for his hometown.
Werner Herzog’s period drama Heart of Glass was one of two films he made that called back into the rich realm of German history (the other being The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser in 1974) at a time when he was busy making documentaries.
Set in the 18th Century, it tells the story of a town nestled somewhere in the rocky escarpments of Bavaria. The town, though rural, has a glassblowing factory and that provides income because this is a time when wealthy families across Europe collected the most lavishly decorated ceramics and glassware available, be it the high-quality but expensive pieces from China and Japan or the many factories in Europe that sprang up to imitate superior Asian works.
The unique selling point of this particular glassworks is its ruby red pieces that shine with a rich colour that mesmerises all who behold it. However, when we enter the town, it is at a time of crisis as the master glassblower has died and taken the secret of making ruby glass with him to his grave. The glasswork’s owner, an aristocrat named Huttenbesitzer (Stefan Guttler), a predatory fop who looks like he could hang out with Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt in Interview with the Vampire (1994), becomes obsessed with finding the formula and his obsession turns into madness that infects other townspeople.
Enter our prophet, Hias, a cowherd who inhabits the forested hills with his cows.
Hias (Josef Bierbichler) is an observer, a loner. He is a man of nature and is first seen staring into the distant landscape as he offers ominous pronouncements of the future dressed in poetic language. The despair he rakes up is something which seems to have driven him to isolation. The aristocrat asks him for help finding the secret of the ruby glass but all Hias predicts is that the glass factory will be destroyed in a fire. Despite this danger of destruction, Hias descends from the mountains to the town and is on the ground as madness sweeps over the citizens and they descend into abasement and violence as they seek the secret of how to make ruby glass to save their town.