Film Review

Brimstone and Glory

todaySeptember 7, 2023 80

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By – Gareth Jones

For fans of immersive documentaries like Leviathan, Mexican regional history and culture, fireworks

Running at a tight 67 minutes, Brimstone and Glory is a breath-taking dive into the world of the south central Mexican town of Tultepec, home to the Mexican fireworks industry and the annual Pyrotechnics Festival.  With minimal dialogue, we are immersed in the lives of those who prepare for the festival.  This ranges from young children who are part of multi-generational fireworks creators to their grandparents.  Everyone in town is connected somehow to this incredible tradition.  The majority of fireworks made in the country are produced in this town and the creative madness is the fuel for the industry.  The artists whose fearless creativity is on display throughout is inspiring and terrifying,

The festival itself is split into two days in the film, the first is the day of castillos or castles.  These are gigantic towers with spinning wheels of flames and color.  The preparation of these towers is unbelievable in scope and in the amount of danger everyone places themselves in is nerve-wracking.  At one moment, a lighting storm comes through town and strikes a tower that lights up.  The workers spring to action to save the tower and all the others that could be destroyed.  It is as tension-filled as any Hollywood action thriller. The second day involves the running of the bulls in giant papier-mache sculptures called cartoneira.  These magnificent creations range from traditional representations of bulls to modern techno-inspired beasts that light up.  All of them are filled with fireworks and just like the running of the bulls in Pamplona, the danger is real to everyone involved.  There is a great deal of bravado to see who can dance in the fireworks, but it is represented as almost a spiritual experience by the cinematography.

The film is directed by German Viktor Jakovleski, who brings an outsider’s view of this otherworldly celebration.  The cinematography is captured with traditional cameras, GoPro cameras attached to participants, and even a Phantom high speed camera that films at 1.500 frames per second creating images that resemble the shots of the galaxy from the Hubble Space Telescope.  I can only imagine what Stanley Kubrick would make of these terrestrial images.

The music is also a key player in the film and it is provided by the team behind Beasts of the Southern Wild  Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin.  Like that film, children with their boundless imagination and wonder pair profoundly with the score.

Words cannot give justice to the images captured in this mesmerizing film.  Like all great documentaries it shows us a story that educates, inspires, and challenges our preconceived notions.

Available to stream on Pluto or on the WETA YouTube channel because it was broadcast on PBS’s POV

Written by: Gareth Jones

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