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‘Riddle of Fire’ review: A sentimental debut collapses under the weight of its fantasy


Making the cake should have been easy. The recipe calls for the usual ingredients: flour, sugar, lemon (both zest and juice), blueberries and an egg. But the parenthesis behind the egg complicates things. “Preferably speckled,” it says. In reality, any egg would have been fine. But Jodie (Skyler Peters), Alice (Phoebe Ferro) and Hazel (Charlie Stover), the precocious trio at the heart of Weston Razooli’s playful feature debut Riddle of fire, aren’t just budding bakers — they’re kids, too. So what should have been a suggestion becomes a mandate.

The search for the speckled egg is at the heart of Razooli’s film, which depicts the American West (set in Wyoming but shot in Utah) as a landscape full of obstacles. The director’s depiction of the state of Great Plains has a painterly quality: billowing white clouds float through the powder blue sky, their path interrupted only by the snow-capped peaks in the distance. The shortgrass prairie, a blend of burnt orange and unsaturated green, seems straight out of a dream. The sharpness of the tree leaves evokes their yellow undertones.

Riddle of fire

It comes down to

So sweet, it’s very sweet.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Two Weeks)
Form: Lio Tipton, Charles Halford, Charlie Stover, Lorelei Olivia Mote, Phoebe Ferro, Skyler Peters
Director-Screenwriter: Weston Razoli

1 hour 54 minutes

Razoli’s style is admirable. Shooting on 16mm film, its American landscape, similar to the one portrayed by Sean Price Williams in fellow directors’ Fortnight selection The Sweet East, arouses amazement and appreciation. Nature is animated by Razoli’s mix of eye-level and ground-level shots and bouncy sound design by Garrard Whatley. Riddle of fire bears the same aesthetic markings as Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, another movie built around adventurous kids. But there’s something precious about the younger director’s approach to his material that pushes our admiration more and more toward exasperation.

Riddle of fire tries to capture the extraordinary way children experience the world, but the results border on two. It’s hard not to think of Margo Jefferson’s helpful analysis about including kids in plays when thinking about where this movie goes wrong. “The balance between instinct and knowledge is difficult to maintain. The public doesn’t want to feel that the child is just the author’s tempting little substitute,” she wrote. “When writers identify too much with their child characters, both innocence and experience become sticky.” Jodie, Alice and Hazel – with their precocity and unrealistically pointed humor – too often feel like these kids.

The film opens with a robbery. Desperate for a new video game, Jodie, Alice and Hazel decide to steal it from the manufacturer’s warehouse. Razoli choreographs the scene, which includes hiding from an unsuspecting guard and slipping into the crevices between boxes, with aplomb and humor. It’s a worthy introduction to the makeshift gang, who secure the goods and race home on their bikes. However, their plan is not infallible. Once home, the children eagerly unpack the game and connect it to the television. Just as they’re about to sit back, between their towers of treats, they realize they don’t know the password to the TV.

Thus begins their adventure to find the password. After begging Jodie and Hazel’s (played by Danielle Hoetmer, the character has a cold) bedridden mother for access, they strike a deal: if the kids can find her a blueberry pie (which her grandmother used to bake when she got so sick). was) a child) then she gives them the password and grants them two hours of uninterrupted screen time.

While Razoli manages to get some interesting moments out of his three young actors, most of the performances are clumsy. Part of that stems from a disconnect between the director’s reverence for childhood and the reality of being a kid. Jodie, Hazel and Alice often make jokes and comments that adults would find cute or charming. This turns them into props for ideas – about youthful innocence and wrongdoing – instead of becoming lived-in characters. The performances almost end on the caricature.

The search for the speckled egg leads the kids to follow the members of a group called The Enchanted Blade, whose leader, Anna-Freya Hollyhock (Lio Tipton), is a witch. Riddle of fire moves from the childhood town to the surrounding woods, where they bump into Petal (Lorelei Olivia Mote), Anna-Freya’s daughter. Three becomes four when Jodie, Hazel and Alice team up with Petal to get their hands on an egg.

The initially immersive adventure begins to feel like an endurance test as the kids find themselves in increasingly dangerous situations. The set pieces grow longer and more indulgent, the genres Razoli experiments with – heist, adventure, comedy – clash rather than complement each other. And Riddle of fire starts to feel like a compilation of distracting gimmicks rather than a real story.

Full credits

Venue: Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight)
Production companies: Fulldawa Films, Anaxia
Cast: Lio Tipton, Charles Halford, Charlie Stover, Lorelei Olivia Mote, Phoebe Ferro, Skyler Peters
Director-Screenwriter: Weston Razoli
Producers: David Atrakchi, Weston Razooli, Sohrab Mirmont, Lio Tipton
Executive Producers: Jay Van Hoy, Sophie Meister, Marlowe Griffin Lyddon, Brendan Griffin Lyddon, David Wiener, Katie Wiener, Donna Grunich
Director of Photography: Jake L. Mitchell
Production Designer: Meg Cabell
Costume Designer: Anaxia
Editor: Anaxie
Composers: Fog Craig Archives, Rune Realms, Tim Rowland, Borg, Gelure
Casting Director: Jeff Johnson
Sales: Mister Smith Entertainment

1 hour 54 minutes

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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