Brimstone & Glory
by Toby Woollaston
Those who remember the euphoric opening sequence to Beasts of the Southern Wild will immediately recognise similarities with Brimstone & Glory. That is because both Beasts and Brimstone share the same brilliantly sense-inducing talents of producer/musician Ben Zeitlin, and although helmed by feature debutant, Viktor Jakovleski, Brimstone & Glory has certainly gleaned a lot from Zeitlin’s explosive input.
Coming in at a modest sixty-seven minutes long, this firecracker of a movie is appropriately punchy and zeroes in on the small(ish by Mexican standards) town of Tultepec, which once a year lights up to celebrate San Juan de Dios, the patron saint of fireworks. But this is no “hang a lantern in the window dressing” kind of festival; instead, this is a brutally unforgiving two evenings of high octane pyrotechnics. OSH has no place here.
The doco loosely follows the fortunes of Santi, a young boy whose family is entering a float into the “running of the bulls”. The giant bull floats are paraded down the street on the second night and systematically ignited and blown up in all manner of ways. There is an element of machismo on show here as the pundits, who are mostly men, follow the pyro-fanatic faith like some sort of rite of passage. But as much as the festival purports to be celebrating the 16th century Saint—who was credited with rushing into a burning hospital to rescue patients, escaping untouched by the flames (or so the story goes)—it really does seem more like an excuse to blow stuff up. Regardless, the heady mix of beauty and lunacy will have you giggling in amazement.
The film keeps dialogue to a minimum (a bonus for subtitle averse film-goers), choosing instead to focus more on the fireworks. The results offer some stunning visuals that capture the beauty of seemingly every individual spark (some of which were shot at an incredibly high 1500 fps), all perfectly wed to Zeitlin’s majestic score. It’s utterly mesmerising, and although the narrative could’ve been stronger, Brimstone & Glory remains a triumph of sensory delights.
See my reviews for the NZ Herald here and for Witchdoctor here.