Dana Rotberg hasn’t made that many feature films, and I keep wondering why. She is one of the most gifted female directors today, and I say this with conviction even if I have seen only two of her three features to date (the other one being Otilia Rauda). Her drama, “Ángel de Fuego” [Eng. Title: Angel of Fire] was made nearly twenty years ago – a heartfelt critique of the duplicitous nature of religion – claiming to redeem people from suffering on the one hand, while unforgiving and vicious on the other.
It is a passionate plea for tolerance and understanding, for reason to prevail over dogma. Set amongst the mundane and unattractive backdrop of an industrial rail yard on the impoverished outskirts of Mexico city, Rotberg has created haunting compositions that confronts and forces viewers out of their complacency. What the film is trying to tell may not be totally unique, but it is the manner in which it conveys the message that leave us speechless. It must have been tough making such a film at the time when Mexico wasn’t yet a modern democracy. It is nevertheless a relentlessly unforgiving film – the first part would’ve put many people off, where a young acrobat has incestuous relations with her ailing father – it is shocking but handled delicately, considering the circumstances under which this happens. Some may also be put off by the catastrophic ending, but the bulk of the film however is all about redemption and salvation, asking pertinent questions like “when is love a sin”, “doesn’t God forgive all those who love” and so on. To the end we’re left asking, who is the sinner in all this that require any redemption.
The film uses exquisite folk imagery like puppets, kitsch backdrops, and local beliefs to avidly capture the essence of a different, but altogether real Mexico. It speaks to me in so many levels, and it is also one of the socially important films to have come out of this fascinating country. It’s hard to believe Dana Rotberg hasn’t made many more films, she is one of her country’s hidden treasures that should be more widely celebrated.
The characterisation and screenplay is well thought out, as is the delicate direction and cinematography. The soundtrack is haunting with a mixture of folk rhythms interspersed with sounds from nearby industry and distant barking (a symbol of human presence). Not least the magnetic performance of the beautiful Evangelina Sosa, who plays the melancholic and angelic Alma, a thirteen year old acrobat and fire breather using the titular name at a dilapidated circus. This is a gem of a film, and therefore without a doubt, Highly Recommended Viewing..!
Recommended Amazon.com DVD Link
(there are some good deals going there at the time of this post)
I felt compelled to enhance this compilation as the DVD was stamped predominantly for older television sets. Here’s a snapshot from the original DVD (left), and my enhanced version (right).