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Riddle of Fire – Quinzaine Des Cinéastes 2023 (Film Review)

3 min read

Still Courtesy - Mister Smith Entertainment

In May of 2023, the cover of famed French film-journal Cahiers du Cinéma was adorned with a peculiar new face. A young child with blue-eyes greeted subscribers and cinephiles with their latest issue. Many were unaware of the image's root; a surprise illustration that represented the Francophone nation's upcoming launch. As the festival chugged along, many recipients and accredited guests were later dumbfounded by the same face within the coveted Theatre Croisette. Inside the JW Marriott, the mystery was finally unveiled for pass-holders and ticket-connoisseurs. The pale expression on the cover of the magazine belonged to Phoebe Ferro; a young child-actor who starred in a film that was set to premiere at the Director's Fortnight. More specifically, the image from the Cahiers magazine was a still that was printed from the press-kit of 's exciting new feature. With a no-name crew at the helm of the project, many Cannes recipients were intrigued by the prospects of a potential cult-classic. 

Landing on the cover of one of the most influential cinema-related publications on the planet isn't an easy feat. Riddle of Fire gleefully deserves its Cahiers distinction. A new talented voice in American cinema is here! Razooli's debut is a delectable cinematic treat that captures the essence of an early-period Miyazaki flick and the free-spirited dynamism of a Tove Jansson comic-strip. It's also a nostalgic summer-time -; a film which beautifully encapsulates the impromptu imagination of a young child's subconscious. From retro video-game consoles, magic spells, illegal poaching, and the pursuit of a speckled egg — the seemingly random domino chain of events is consistently entertaining within the confines of its small-scaled narrative. In many regards, the film's conventional structure eerily emulates a demented nursery rhyme; shifting morals and obstacles with amiable ease. 

The iconography of the 1980s swoons with affecting nostalgia — never once bordering on obnoxious sentimentality-bait. The aesthetic callbacks, including the film's stunning 16mm Kodak-shot cinematography, provide texture and titillation alongside the adventurous spirit of Razooli's lo-fi directorial pursuits. Riddle of Fire keeps the majority of its visual pastiche in-camera as a result of its simplistic form. The fantasy elements in the film are sustained at a remarkable distance; a complimentary detail that enhances the scope and emotional vibrancy of the familiar narrative. 

As we traverse through the great plains and mountain ranges of Wyoming, Razooli unfortunately degrades the enchanting ambience of his project, by turning his camera towards the adult co-stars. The subplots revolving around The Enchanted Blade Gang undercut the charm and spirit of the amateur child performances. Imperfections and faults are what make Riddle of Fire emotionally gripping from the get-go; as the children deliver their mumbled lines with kind-eyed wonder. It's the effort and commitment behind every member of the film's abecedarian cast & crew which compliments the singular cinematographic vision. In the shadow of the experienced adult performers, Riddle of Fire loses sight of the adventurous perspective and endearing charm of its offbeat premise. 

Especially with the awkward pacing included into the mix, scenes often stagger in the limelight with little purpose nor articulated punch. As we constantly cycle through each of the forgettable grown-up characters, the viewer subsequently loses their unified affinity for Razooli's homage-dependent saga. As the credits roll on a near-perfect end-note, the satisfactory wrap-up circumstantially concludes Riddle of Fire‘s meandering tale of old. Imperfect but undeniably promising, Weston Razooli's directorial debut is a striking nostalgic venture with a heart of gold.

Riddle of Fire premiered at this year's  Film Festival, as part of the Director's Fortnight sidebar.