La Guerre du feu: Prehistory and cinema


 Cinema Films Fire War History Mankind Stone Age Paleolithic

One of the biggest difficulties when it comes to teaching prehistory to young children and teenagers is to stimulate their imagination to a time so absurdly remote and demonstrate that apparently small events at that time and space represented drastic changes in the relationship between Hominidae and their fellow creatures and the nature surrounding them. How to portray a chiped rock as a technological breakthrough to pre-teens who own gadgets that would make the most innovative Swiss pocketknives tremble.

It's possible that most of us visited Natural History museums or spent hours looking at reproductions of rupestral drawings without realising what there was to be seen. What was so interesting about them, anyway?

However, thanks to more unorthodox teachers, it's equally likely that some of us were lucky enough to have stumbled upon the movie La Guerre du feu (Quest For Fire) at school; the greatest and most unique cinema classic about this subject, the one that was on in the only class about prehistory in which you (almost) didn't fall asleep. Before the superproduction 10 000 a.C., from the same producers of Independence Day and The day after tomorow, which promissed an exciting, albeit incorrect, vision of Prehistory, the French film deserves to be revisited here.

It seems that the thousands of years that have gone by weren't enough to bring our cave-inhabitant ancestors to the interest of cinematography; except for brief or light appearances or references such as in 2001, Space Odyssey or Planet of the Apes, the subject has been constantly relegated to those typical mid-afternoon movies, under titles along the lines of "My big caveman friend", that is, cloudy drafts with little didactic intention. There is also The Ice Age and a bunch of other documentaries: the first shows a superficial accuracy, which is natural, considering it is a cartoon and the rest have too much theoric content and a slow pace for most people. But, although 10.000 a.C. had a millionaire budget and a blockbuster plot, able to attract new people to this theme, it is still in disadvantage when compared to the movie by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

Released in 1981, in a French and Canadian production, La Guerre du feu is a movie that raises new theories about the origin of language through three homo spaiens' search for a new source of fire, lost by their tribe; the fire being a divine and scary element for them. The delirium about how these three warriors communicated, found, interacted and fought with each other is based on a work by Anthony Burgess, a linguist and renown author of A Clockwork Orange . Burgess made the adaptations and languages used by those Hominidae believable, and a story filled with grunts, mammoths and situations that, in our day and age, seem absurd, understandable.

What remains in our memory as the unforgetable highlight is the very peculiar behaviour of the warriors in search for the fire: there's a scene where one of them grabs a heavy rock and throws it at another one's head and everyone, including the one who has just been stoned, have a laughing attack. Also classic is the scene where the females go cool their throats in a water stream and one of them is sexually surprised by a caveman. Well, I say surprised for the lack of a better word, as she doesn't seem very much surprised. The students are thrilled.

The Quest For Fire goes on surprising audiences with the sensibility with which it handles such a complex theme, where so many uncertainties and very few theories exist. As cinema, it reveals, within a simple production, a powerful plot where we, without any doubt, identify ourselves as beings gifted with a great ability to adapt and more intriguing as the time goes by.


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