A. H. Weiler
["Signs of Life"] is true to its title and its theme of destructive boredom that only climactically forces its principals into explosive action. But as an apparent parable set in a peaceful Grecian backwash of World War II it is almost metaphysically obscure as allegory, even though its characterizations and intentions are as honest as its impressively authentic pastoral backgrounds.
Using the Dodecanese island of Cos, Werner Herzog … proves to be strikingly effective as a director if not altogether convincing as an allegorist. These are indeed mere placid signs of life he has captured in a dozing microcosm of whitewashed houses, lapping waves on a pebbled shore, a moldering bastion, broken ancient Greek statuary, meadows, mountains and listless people, young and old, bathed in enervating heat and sunlight.
Against this area touched but not struck by war, he has focused on three German soldiers (and the Greek wife of one of them) who go about the daily stultifying business of guarding a repository of ammunition in a crumbling fortress. The essence of their mounting ennui is dissected in a series of seemingly unconnected scenes….
Mr. Herzog has failed to make his harried hero's case or his parable believable. Otherwise, his "Signs of Life" provides vivid signs of considerable talent and promise.
A. H. Weiler, "'Signs of Life'," in The New York Times (© 1968 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), September 26, 1968, p. 60.