Physicist have been trying to simulate what it must have been like during the infant time of the big bang, where the universe exploded out of an infinitesimal space into the boundless arena we know (kind of) today. Maybe these scientists need to watch Viktor Jakovleski's debut feature, Brimstone & Glory, which seems to keep an abstract eye on the minute details of firework explosions during the pompous carnage of Teltepec, Mexico's annual celebration San Juan de Dio. Universes seem to be exploding from the gunpowder particulates flailing through the charcoal sky. Out of context, the slow motion, out of focus, shots feature excruciatingly phantasmagorical beauty presenting us with supernovae of color and heat. Born out of the the release of awesome pressure is the universe of a pridefully insane culture of jovial bombast. Jakovleski fully embraces such spirit in creation of a cinematic equivalent.
Such a frenetic and tactile sensation would not be possible without the dangerous but ultimately courageous cinematography of Tobias Von de Born, who could have experienced some burns taking the camera into the heart of the spastic nebula of charged light. Camera motion abounds, not in an effortlessly fluid manner but in a darting and prevenient mode, zipping around subjects, bolting this way and that, rarely slowing to a glide. Drone shots encapsulates the popularity and necessity for such a perilous holiday, often times hovering just over the fire-crackling palm trees that gleam above the massive crowds. Then, there are those shots that throw the camera and cameraman into a energetic re-imaging of a Pollock painting, searing with Brownian velocity and scorching luminosity.
And it is not just the cinematography that embodies such a vigorous poem of a film. Most of the elements delightfully play in conjunction with intriguing tension. Dan Romer and Benh Zeitlin, whose previous works included the dynamite feature, Beast of the Southern Wild, score this film with popping percussion, emblematic of its fire-cracker counterparts. One layer at a time, the music builds into symphonic wonderment, aurally recreating the lingering gaze onto grandiose polychrome.
As technically marvelous as this film is, Dennis Harvey of Variety makes a good point on the formal approach of this film, regarding it as a, "semi-ethnographic tone poem." Although subjectivity transpires as a means of experiential filmmaking, the rest of Brimstone & Glory is largely objective as it looks and listens. There is no plot other than the people of Tultepc preparing and celebrating the holiday, though we faintly follow a young boy as he builds courage to run through the luminous cacophony. An interplay between subjective and objective perspective makes for an enthralling piece both in respectful observance to a certain group of people as well as placing the viewer among this group of people, with the same fear and energy and awe; empathy made through brute force, essentially. Briefly, one example sees a worker climbing to the top of a castillo, or castle, laden with fireworks ready to go off when prompted. Through a GoPro on the worker's hat, we see a wide-angle representation of what he sees. If you are afraid of heights, you may have to look away.
At just sixty-six minutes, Brimstone & Glory is a sprint, a muscular flex that does not abate. It is one of the most confident films I have seen in recent memory, representing its subject with unequivocal honesty, and allowing the distant spectator a chance to enter what seems like another universe. Such origins of these universes begin and end in an instant; a big bang makes way to a whimper in a blink of an eye. I must say, it is easy to become philosophical, despite the grandiloquence of fireworks, when a seriously amazing montage captivates my eye, lusting for the inflamed rainbows and nebulous gas. If you are a thrill seeker or cinematic romantic, seek this film out. Lose yourself in a celebration unlike any other. For better or for worse, the fourth of July has got nothing on this.