Review: In ‘Brimstone & Glory,’ Passions Blaze at a Fireworks Festival


A scene from “Brimstone & Glory.”


The director Viktor Jakovleski filmed “Brimstone & Glory” over three editions of the annual National Pyrotechnic Festival in Tultepec, Mexico, on the northern outskirts of Mexico City. Fireworks have long been a major industry in the municipality. Even children take up the work, which — despite the danger — has an artisanal quality and rich traditions, including the construction of bull-shaped parade floats that explode with light and color when ignited.

But the movie, advertised as a “sensory experience,” ultimately treats the sociological context as secondary. Mostly, it’s a vehicle for cinematographic derring-do. Flames and embers surround the gliding camera. In a section that deals with the construction of castles of fire — towers that shoot off fireworks — a local with a GoPro on his head climbs to a terrifying height. Shortly afterward, we see one of the castles struck by lightning. It’s an amazing get.

Still, the film, accompanied by a percussive score from Benh Zeitlin and Dan Romer (both wrote the music for “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” which Mr. Zeitlin directed), has a wandering attention span and grows monotonous even at barely more than one hour. In brief moments — watching medics treat the wounded or police prepare for the day of the burning of the bulls — “Brimstone & Glory” hints at a more expansive, tapestry-like documentary that might have been. The decision not to dwell on the subjects is especially frustrating considering what happened in Tultepec last December, after filming, when an explosion at Mexico’s largest fireworks emporium killed dozens.

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