Gabriel Ponniah, Editor In Chief
ATX Screen Scene
The biblical apocalypse as laid out by the Christian faith depicts fire and brimstone unlike anything the human species has ever known, and yet our current apocalypse—climate change—is, in practice, much slower and subtler. With FIREFALLS, French filmmaker Ariel Neo wants to catch your attention and reconcile the urgency of the former with the reality of the latter.
The short film imagines a convergence of ideas realized in brilliant color through striking imagery. A haggard man tries to evade that rider named Death, while a young girl distributes dead butterflies across the forest. Meanwhile, a mystic tends to their paintings as the doomsday clock ticks towards midnight. In the end, the man is unable to save the child from death’s burning staff, while the clock strikes midnight.
Neo describes the project as aiming to blur the boundaries between man, nature and art, while asking the audience: how long can mankind run away from the apocalypse it birthed itself? They’re lofty goals, to be sure, and their ambition is met by Neo’s meticulous attention to detail and brilliant command of symbolic imagery. As a tone poem, FIREFALLS is very compelling; Neo’s background as a painter shines through in her color choice and shot composition, as well as in literal ways like the gorgeous doomsday clock. In fact, most everything in the frame at any given time is clearly a labor of love, and the 52-minute behind-the-scenes documentary is evidence of the tremendous effort that went into an independent production of this kind.
One wonders, however, what kind of impact this project makes in pursuit of its ends. Surely there are powerful messages contained in such arresting imagery, but FIREFALLS lacks the clairity which makes the most effective advocacy pieces work. There’s an arena for experimental film of this kind, but by targeting a nebulous evil tenuously attached to the concept of climate change, the film leaves much to be desired insofar as action steps. Cynics could be forgiven for wondering if they’d missed a perfume brand title just before the credits. For those who seek to dissect the visual language in earnest, they could also be forgiven for having trouble parsing the meaning of the dead butterflies and the fearsome snake, as these are our two most obvious natural ciphers.
Whether profound or perfunctory, FIREFALLS remains a visual marvel with expertise at most every level—editing, cinematography, production (animals, children, fire, water, delicate and finely curated production design—it’s a burgeoning indie producer’s nightmare). While the story (or lack thereof) is happy to let some viewers fall by the wayside, the intangible impact it may have on a select few from some ethereal level may yet aid in its quest to defeat that pale horse and its rider named Climate Change.