Thursday, November 19, 2009
DVD Review: BORN OF FIRE (Mondo Macabro)
Mondo Macabro has done it again. They’ve uncovered a mostly unknown and completely unique film and given it the red carpet, 5-star treatment. BORN OF FIRE is an imperfect film, but is such a bizarre and visually stimulating piece that its faults dissipate quickly from your mind. A mystic-minded horror-fantasy with a healthy dollop of art-film gravitas, BORN bends and slinks around most of your “normal” preconceptions of genre or mainstream narrative. Its Islamic context gives it a refreshing texture that is effortlessly exotic (it would make a fine double feature with another Islamic art-horror: Kutlug Ataman’s THE SERPENT'S TALE). The film carries you along by magick and music, by imagination and emotion rather than plot, which is somewhat weak. A concert flautist’s chance meeting with a mysterious woman takes him unexpectedly to Turkey to investigate the circumstances of his father’s death. His father had gone to Turkey to study under “The Master Musician”, a man of supernatural musical talents who is somehow responsible for his death. This investigation leads to obscure revelations concerning the end of the world by excessive solar and volcanic activity. Our hero must prevent this occurrence by a musical dual with the Master, who, it turns out, is essentially Satan.
The synopsis above does not, and cannot, possibly convey the impact this movie has. It’s full of weird and mysterious events which make little or no logical or narrative sense: a woman stoned to death by flowers instead of rocks, a djinn who responds to a sung Muslim prayer by shooting flames from his eyes, a vulture crashing through a shattered windshield on a rainy London night, the hero’s mysterious woman-friend, possessed by the djinn sends a steam of menstrual blood down her leg into a salt-water pool which later becomes a cocoon containing a monstrous moth that somehow causes her death when it hatches. Taken apart, these events hardly attach themselves to the “save the world by atoning for the sins of the father” thrust of the BORN’s plot. Taken together, with the other-worldly ambiance which seems to seep subconsciously into your mind, these images and many others like them form the dream-like corpus of the movie. Your perception abandons the narrative and floats along this metaphysical, surreal visual stream. Occasionally the spell is broken, mostly by clunky, tin-eared dialog (“The music originates here. The fire is its source” for one example) which reads almost like poetry on paper but sounds insufferably pretentious when voiced aloud by the actors. And the plot itself sometimes comes off half-baked, as though perhaps compromises during the film’s production limited the material that could be filmed, giving it an unintended ambiguity. But ultimately, ambiguity is OK with me, as long as the film itself is interesting enough to carry it through. BORN OF FIRE is, if nothing else, very interesting.
The DVD is total aces. The 1.85:1 widescreen presentation is spot on and beautiful. I could find no fault in it. A ton of relevant extras round out this great release, most notably three interviews with cast and crew. Director Jamil Dehalavi discusses his career and BORN OF FIRE in particular in great detail which is gives the film some nice context. As an aside I might point out that Dehalavi seems to agree with me about the dialog, insisting that you could do away with it and not adversely affect the film. Peter Firth is next and is very charming, and although proud of the movie seems still a little befuddled by it. Perhaps the best interview is with Nabil Shaban, who plays a deformed dwarf who in some ways becomes the main character of the movie. He seems to be one of the few people to be able to give a comprehensive answer to questions concerning what the film is actually all about. I’m not sure I agree with him 100% but his views are articulate and entertaining. Shaban is wild-eyed and enthusiastic throughout, discussing his career and the film with contagious affection. Highly informative, if rather brief and to the point, text pages by MM CEO Pete Tombs plaster you with further details about the movie, its production and cast. A VHS sourced trailer completes the package, along with the always-there MM preview reel, which sadly has not been updated to include this movie, their previous release GRADIVA or the upcoming SADIST WITH RED TEETH. All in all, this is a delirious and wonderful film let down somewhat by its own story, but is given an amazing and well-rounded DVD presentation so that thousands more people can make up their own minds about it.