BRIMSTONE & GLORY
Dirección: Viktor Jakovleski
The Richter Scale says: Why is danger so attractive? Why is humanity to drawn to the possibility of getting hurt, or even killed? There are many theories on the subject, the most popular one being the adrenaline one feels when faced with the possibility of Death. For the people of Tultepec in the State of Mexico, this proximity to danger is a part of their tradition. This is where the National Pyrotechnics Festival is celebrated every year during the week of the birth and death of San Juan de Dios, the Patron Saint of Pyrotechnics who rescued many people from a burning hospital and came out without a burn on his body. At least that’s what we hear from one of the narrators in this film by German filmmaker Viktor Jakovleski (who made this film during his residency in Mexico) that shows us two special events that are part of the National Pyrotechnics Festival (the Day of the Fire Castles and the Day of the Bull), as well as an intimate look into the people who make these events possible.
Jakovleski treats this event as the great battle at the end of a war picture in which we see many of the participants getting ready to walk into the battlefield (so to speak). The most shocking scene is one in which a police commander is giving instructions to the men under his command about what to do during the Day of the Bull (keep the integrity of the Festival) and another in which we hear a similar speech directed toward a group of paramedics. Jakovleski very clearly exposes the dangers that come with working with pyrotechnics during the fair and being so close to all these flammable chemicals. We even hear testimonies from families, from a mother who lost her son due to pyrotechnics, a little boy who doesn’t want to do this for a living as much as he enjoys it and several men (who are never introduced during the film) who express their fear of dying and the fact that they aren’t chemists, but they keep doing this because it’s a part of their identity. This is what these people do every year, and yet the film treats it with a certain suspense thanks to the editing done by Affonso Goncalves (who worked on Winters Bone and the HBO series True Detective).
Never losing sight of what’s dangerous about this world, Jakovleski also shows what we all love about fireworks: the majesty. There’s nothing like looking up at the sky and see how those flashes of light explote and use the night sky as a canvas in which to paint a picture. This is where Tobias Von Dem Borne’s exquisite cinematography and the majestic score by Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin (who also did the music for Beasts of the Southern Wild, which Zeitlin directed and he was also a producer of Brimstone & Glory) transport to that ecstasy we feel when we experience these works of art that have put this small town in the State of Mexico on the map. Yes, making them is dangerous and yes, many people get seriously burned and even killed every year in order to provide this spectacle. Anyone who watches this spectacle would say that the sacrifice is worth it for the sake of art. That’s a separate topic and one that this particular film isn’t keen on engaging with, because it’s not the story it’s telling. This film is about a town and the annual festival that has become its identity.
Dirección: Camila José Donoso
Selección Oficial Largometraje México
The Richter Scale says: What do you do when you belong to a society that seems to have no place for you? Naturally, you look for one that does or you create one where all those who are like you can fit in. Roshell Terranova and Liliana Alba have created such a place for those who are men in their daily lives, some with wives and children and most of them with jobs that are considered “ordinary” in the outside world, but inside the walls of Casa Roshell, they’re women. Located in the Central-Southern part of Mexico City, Club Roshell is a space where those who share an affinity for transvestism come together: a room with a stage where cabarets are performed, and conferences and workshops centered around transvestism are given, including workshops on clothing and makeup. Chilean filmmaker Camila José Donoso shows us what life is for these individuals who have the outside world to judge them for whatever it will, but who are safe when they’re inside those walls.
This is one of those films that blurs the line between narrative and documentary filmmaking. There’s no plot and there are no character archs (characters are never introduced as such, in fact), but it’s not necessarily contructed around interviews nor is it building toward a thesis. The film’s goal is simply to show what life is inside this place and to listen to testimonies of the people inside through the conversations they have with each other. We see two men who come in to hook up, one bisexual and the other heterosexual. The straight man says he goes in to see women and even though he knows they’re not women outside, he cares about what he sees inside. We also see Roshell dress up and then give a workshop on how to do makeup and move as a transvestite, as well as the testimony of a transvestite who had to get his wife used this new way of life. Viewers feel as if they have walked in to Casa Roshell and are learning what happens inside, without the need of a tour guide (something most documentaries tend to have, be it narration or interview segments).
The filmmaking is minimalist, and it uses the lights inside that very place. Pablo Rojo’s cinematography captures moments without the need to move much (starting with a static sequence of Roshell in the dressing rooms dressing up). What makes it feel like a narrative film at times are those moments that don’t feel so spontaneous (the aforementioned scene with the two men feels like something someone wrote), which gives it the feel of re-creating moments by mixing the realism of documentary filmmaking and the artificiality of narrative filmmaking. It’s thanks to the editing done by the director herself that these scattered elements move with such fluidity and highlight what’s so attractive about this place, even for people who had no interest in this world beforehand. The film highlights a culture, a world we know exists, but probably would never have gotten to know and have no interest in knowing if we hadn’t seen it on our screen. That’s what cinema is for.