Born of Fire (1987)

Directed by Jamil Dehlavi
Written by Jamil Dehlavi, Rafiq Abdullah
Produced by Jamil Dehlavi, Thérèse Pickard. Stewart Richards
Starring Peter Firth, Suzan Crowley, Stefan Kalipha, Nabil Shaban, Orla Pederson


Unusual solar prominences and a volcanic eruption presage a clash of elements invoked by musical magic. In the wake of his mother’s death, a virtuoso flutist (Firth) finds amative solace with an astronomer (Crowley) who’s correlated these omens before they meet in Turkey, where he’s guided by a muezzin (Kalipha) and aided by a fearful stigmatic (Shaban) to repugn a polymorphous, pyrogenous demon (Pederson) who designs to devastate Earth by empyrosis. Can his woodwind’s hydrokinetic apotropaism extinguish the root of an impendent global conflagration?


Barely plotted and profuse with portents, Dehlavi’s and Abdullah’s story is one of too few to properly portray west Asian folklore in modernity. At its most effective, dreamy flashbacks foreshadow and interpenetrate present drama with cyclic implications. Much of Abdullah’s dialogue is footling, thrice bathetic; Kalipha is granted the best of it in poetic monitions.


Fine framing by Dehlavi of picturesque prospects atmospherically exploits his stunning settings: an opulent English recital hall, Lucullan domiciliary interiors, ruggedly grand Turkish mountains, caverns, cascades, Roman ruins, ancient and abandoned mosques and churches, and the famed travertine pools in the hills of Pamukkale. He leaves his performers to their own devices, seldom prioritizing them above absorbing locational and faunal imagery.


Vibrancies of a feeding mosquito, creeping lizard, slithering snake, weltering lava, waters turquoise in travertine terraces, and more are preserved in sightly contrast by DP Bruce McGowan.


At this point a practiced expresser of glowering disconcertion and determination, Firth was well-cast as the protagonal lead. His carnal chemistry with Crowley is fleetingly intense, but her tremendous screen presence and steady delivery don’t always offset her hammy visages. Forbidding djinn and mournful lusus naturae are personated with speechless vehemence by Pederson and Shaban. Kalipha grimly grounds his scenes in contrast to his co-stars’ dynamism.


Thrumming basslines, Turkish twangs, soprano shrieks, and hisses against deep drones by Colin Towns melodically and cacophonously complement Dehlavi’s visuals. Firth feigns performance of mellisonant standards by Poulenc, Debussy, and Mayer played by James Galway.


Long dismissed as an exotic curiosity, Dehlavi’s quasi-surrealistic spiritual fantasy marked by Muslim piety and a dash of horror deserves reappraisal, if only for its unique beauty. From concert hall to Cotton Castles, its sorcerous intrigues are strangely semihypnotic, relaxing, and refreshing. Those willing to ignore a few misdeliveries, a meandering narrative, some low-grade SFX, and Firth’s faux facial hair (when playing his soloist’s father) may enjoy its agrestic Orientality.

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