Brim­stone & Glory

Pasatiempo - - PASATIEMPO - — Michael Abatemarco

BRIM­STONE & GLORY, doc­u­men­tary, not rated, in Span­ish with sub­ti­tles, Cen­ter for Con­tem­po­rary Arts, 3.5 chiles Ev­ery year dur­ing the fes­ti­val of San Juan de Dios, the Mex­i­can town of Tul­te­pec springs to fiery, fer­vent life with a stun­ning dis­play of py­rotech­nics, earn­ing Tul­te­pec the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing called Mex­ico’s fire­works cap­i­tal. Brim­stone & Glory, the first fea­ture by di­rec­tor Vik­tor Jakovleski, is a mostly vis­ual doc­u­men­tary about the town and the risks its in­hab­i­tants take by lit­er­ally play­ing with fire.

There’s no real nar­ra­tive to speak of, but Jakovleski does pro­vide a vis­ceral cin­e­matic ex­pe­ri­ence for view­ers. Early in the film, a young nar­ra­tor ex­plains the con­nec­tion be­tween fire and San Juan, who is said to have res­cued a group of peo­ple from a hos­pi­tal in flames with­out suf­fer­ing a sin­gle burn. The dan­gers from the fire­work dis­plays are real enough for the cel­e­brants, who risk life and limb to light up not just the night sky but also tow­er­ing carousels, cas­tles, and huge spin­ning wheels in a kalei­do­scope of color and flames. Jakovleski him­self suf­fered a knee in­jury from a fire­work dur­ing film­ing. “We’re not chemists, so our mea­sure­ments aren’t per­fect,” says one in­hab­i­tant of the town, as they cram sacks full of gun­pow­der and other com­bustible ma­te­ri­als into mas­sive rocket tubes.

The fire­works are the real stars of Brim­stone & Glory, erupt­ing and ex­plod­ing in a slow-mo­tion spec­ta­cle that’s awe-in­spir­ing and hyp­notic. At times you might feel you’re bear­ing wit­ness to the mo­ment of cre­ation, watch­ing stars and worlds be­ing born in a mael­strom of fire. Film­ing with high-speed Phantom cam­eras shoot­ing at 1,500 frames per sec­ond, cine­matog­ra­pher To­bias von dem Borne of­fers au­di­ences some­thing that makes up a lit­tle for not get­ting to ac­tu­ally wit­ness the fes­ti­val first­hand: an up-close, in­ti­mate look at py­rotech­nics in their penul­ti­mate mo­ments. The rous­ing score by Dan Romer and the film’s co-pro­ducer Benh Zeitlin, di­rec­tor of 2012’s Beasts of the South­ern Wild, keeps the qui­eter mo­ments, in which towns­folk are busily en­gaged in prepa­ra­tions, mov­ing. The mu­sic in the slow-mo­tion scenes, with vi­o­lin notes sus­tained for long du­ra­tions, is no less dra­matic than the thump­ing beats that punc­tu­ate the shots of peo­ple con­struct­ing whirligigs or rac­ing through the streets at night with sparklers trail­ing be­hind.

Amid all the spec­ta­cle, am­a­teur en­thu­si­asts light their own fire­works, not re­ally com­pet­ing with the pro­fes­sional dis­plays, but adding to the thrill of it all. Re­li­gious pro­ces­sions fill the streets; men, women, and chil­dren dance and play amid the rain of sparks; and pa­pier-mâché bulls, a high­light of the fes­ti­val, burn as the py­rotech­nics in­side them are set off. It seems that Jakovleski ap­proached this project with one par­tic­u­lar mis­sion in mind: to dazzle you. And in that, he suc­ceeds.

Keep­ing the home fires burn­ing: A scene from Brim­stone & Glory

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