out of Five
Running time: 92
Beautifully shot, emotionally engaging coming-of-age drama with a strong script and terrific performances from a largely non-professional cast.
What's it all about?
Based on the best-selling true story of Senait G. Mehari, Heart of Fire is directed by Luigi Falomi (who made The Story of the Weeping Camel) and stars Letekidan Micael as Awet, a young Eritrean girl who was abandoned by her mother and has been raised in an orphanage by Italian nuns. However, in the mid-1970s, Awet's father Amit (Mekdes
Wegene) sends her older sister Freweyni (Solomie Micael) to claim her, only for the two girls to end up as near servants to Amit's new wife.
Eventually, Amit tires of the girls and gives them to the Jebha liberation forces, a group of Eritrean freedom fighters who are involved in violent in-fighting with the Shabia splinter group. Awet bonds closely with its charismatic leaders, warrior Ma'aza (Seble
Tilahun) and kindly teacher Mike'ele (Daniel Seyoum) and begins to fantasise that they could be a family, but as the attacks on the group grow more violent, Ma'aza thrusts a gun into her hands and orders the children to train to be fighters.
Ten-year-old Letekidan Micael proves an astonishing find as Awet and delivers a terrific performance that's by turns heartbreaking, inspiring and darkly funny, especially when she stubbornly challenges her leaders by asking them why their espoused doctrine of communism doesn't extend to the food getting shared out equally. There's also strong support from Solomie Micael (equally heartbreaking in her own way as the downtrodden, doesn't-say-much Freweyni), Daniel Seyoum and the stunning Seble Tilahun.
The film is beautifully shot throughout and Judith Kaufmann's cinematography produces some strikingly memorable images, such as the little red dress that Awet wears throughout the film or the shot of her sitting on a tree branch with her back to the camera. In addition, Falomi orchestrates some terrific scenes, such as when Awet hits upon what she thinks is a brilliant plan to avoid any of her friends getting killed or a powerful moment where she puts the nuns' carefully explained message of turn the other cheek into action.
Heart of Fire is a beautifully shot, emotionally engaging drama that delivers a powerful message, thanks to a strong script and a brilliant performance from young Letekidan Micael. Highly recommended.
Heart Of Fire (tbc)