There can be a serene beauty in the most lethal and dangerous situations. Creation and destruction, celebration and grief. The burst of a volcano. The cone of a tornado. The eye of a hurricane. Rushes of adrenaline as we realize we could die and bursts of endorphins when we realize we haven’t. The people of Tultepec, Mexico control that feeling for a living.
The city has one industry: fireworks. They provide 80% of the fireworks for all of Mexico, year in, year out. So when they celebrate the day of Juan de Dios at the National Pyrotechnics Festival, they go hard, two nights in a row. The celebrations are called the burning of the castles and the burning of the bulls, and they are beautiful.
BRIMSTONE & GLORY is a glorious thrillride through the weekend, concerned primarily with beautiful images of fire and sparks, and secondly with human emotion in the face of injury and death. The elation of embracing your life as you walk through the fire and emerge unburned. It follows Santi, a small boy on the verge of running with the bulls for the first time, as he and his family make the fireworks and the sculptures that will come to line their streets.
And it follows the fireworks themselves, as they come into existence and burn out of same, whether by cigarette, lighter, or (unfortunately) lightning. An ecstatic compilation of drone, GoPro, slow motion, steadicam shots document the spectacular explosions of the nights. The bombastic score and incredible sound design come together to put you there, between the castles and among the bulls, jumping for your life and trying to keep your skin covered.
These were the facts I was presented, in brief, throughout the film. There’s a festival, fireworks are a family business, and there seems to be no regulation at the personal level. Children are said to have gunpowder in their blood. Mothers and grandmothers wind detcord around their elbows. No one stays home, and the only people behind a fence during the burning of the bulls are the police, benevolently waiting to keep their injured populace safe from themselves.
I’m not a religious person, but I can see the holy connection between a saint known for emerging from a burning hospital unscathed and a festival built around filling the street with fire.
And filled it is.
Beautiful rich black frames ignite with sparks alighting off bulls. A technician does his best to get his castle to light in time with all the others, standing underneath waves of sparks as they rain down on his back. A sea of people, watching, awed.
I already miss this movie. I want to see it again immediately. I want to grab everyone I know by the shoulders and force them to watch it. This is a documentary unconcerned with facts and figures, built around legend and love. I haven’t seen anything like it before, and I don’t know when I will since. But for now, BRIMSTONE & GLORY is more than enough. FOUR STARS
BONUS REVIEW: Do you like slow motion footage? Are you curious about the everyday workings of fishers and trawlers catching Bay of Fundy lobsters? Do you like whimsical and homey accents in your voiceovers? Do you think water’s kinda beautiful when you drop something in it off the side of a boat in slow motion?
Then boy, do I have the film for you! SUNRISE ON THE TOTAL CHAOS: TWO AND A HALF STARS