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Quest for Fire

Entry updated 25 March 2019. Tagged: Film.

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Film (1981). ICC-Cine-Trail (Montreal) Belstar Productions/Stephan Films (Paris). Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Written by Gerard Brach, based on La Guerre du Feu (1909 Je Sais Tout; 1909) by J-H Rosny aîné. Cast includes Rae Dawn Chong, Nameer El-Kadi, Everett McGill and Ron Perlman. 100 minutes. Colour.

This Canadian/French coproduction dramatizes the classic 1909 French Prehistoric SF romance by J H Rosny aîné, translated as The Quest for Fire: A Novel of Prehistoric Times (cut trans 1967; vt Quest for Fire 1982). Great care – possibly misplaced, since who can know? – was taken to make it all seem authentic, from positions adopted for love-making (body language credited to Desmond Morris) and an imaginary agglutinative language with a vocabulary of about 200 sounds (linguistics credited to Anthony Burgess). The tribe's fire has gone out, and three tribesmen go on a quest to find fresh fire (it is a kind of Holy Grail), confronting a more primitive cannibal tribe and then the more sophisticated Ivaka, who know how to make fire. As an exercise in imaginary Anthropology it is mildly impressive (though it has its cod aspects, its 1909 original not being the last word in prehistoric insight); as story-telling, it covers familiar generic ground, but is all very enjoyable – especially the arbitrary herd of mammoths (elephants wearing rugs) – and rather touching. The Kenyan and Scottish highlands, beautifully photographed, stand in for prehistoric Europe. [PN]


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