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BORN OF FIRE (AKA: THE MASTER MUSICIAN)(director/writer: Jamil Dehlavi; screenwriter: Raficq Abdulla; cinematographer: Bruce McGowan; editors: Robert Hargreaves/John Martin; music: Colin Towns; cast: Peter Firth (Paul Bergson), Suzan Crowley (The Woman, Anoukan), Nabil Shaban (The Silent One), Stefan Kalipha (Bilal), Oh-Tee (The Master Musician), Jean Ainslie (Mother); Runtime: 84; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Jamil Dehlavi/Therese Pickard; Vidmark Entertainment; 1983-UK)
“The overall mystical atmosphere created gives the film a truly otherworldly look.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Pakistani director and writer Jamil Dehlavi (“Jinnah”/”Immaculate Conception”) helms this incomprehensible and pretentious Islamic horror film (viewed by the filmmaker as more a mystical film). Despite its faults, it’s enjoyably filled with mystical music (the flute playing courtesy of James Galway) and eerie Turkish location shots of sandy volcanic mountains holding jagged caves and calcified rock pools.

The young virtuoso English flautist Paul Bergson (Peter Firth) is giving a solo concert in London’s Wigmore Hall when a female astronomer (Suzan Crowley) enters and he feels so disturbed by her presence that he can’t feel the music anymore and cancels the remainder of the concert. After chatting backstage, they discover they both share the same troubled visions and become lovers. Soon Paul’s widowed mom (Jean Ainslie) dies, and on her deathbed whispers to the astronomer the name of the Master Musician (Oh-Tee), the musical guru Paul’s father visited to learn advanced flute techniques but became overwhelmed by fire and died with the flute in his mouth the day Paul was born.

When an unexpected volcano strikes Turkey, the astronomer thinking it’s related to a partial solar eclipse (something her boss sneers at) takes a leave of absence from work to join Paul in Turkey. She sent Paul on ahead, convincing him he must find out the reason for his father’s death. Paul, in the meantime, has met the mysterious mountain man Bilal (Stefan Kalipha), the one who guided his father and who summons the faithful Muslims to prayer. Bilal also acts as his guide and takes him to the ruined and abandoned Christian sanctuary where his father stayed. There he introduces him to his scary looking but harmless deformed (wobbly stick-legs that are too thin to support him when he walks) and mute half-brother, The Silent One (Nabil Shaban), someone he never knew existed. Paul learns that his father married a native woman while studying here. Because her deformed birth was followed by the deformed birth of four other women in the village, the superstitious men stoned her to death. When Paul sees visions of the stoning, he’s told by Bilal that what he sees is not real—it’s a djinn (something created from the fire of the scorching winds and could take any form). Bilal further tells Paul how his father died and how it’s up to him to confront the Master Magician and through his flute playing destroy the man who killed his father. There are hints that the astronomer is the reincarnation of his father’s native wife.

The climax turns into a musical duel, where Paul must search for the never-ending note from the safety of a circle and when found the Master Musician will bow to the good music conquering the evil and therefore the Master Musician will be destroyed. We are further told that music is created here, and its source is the fire.

The bizarre imagery, the colorful performances of the Dervish dancers and the overall mystical atmosphere created gives the film a truly otherworldly look. Unfortunately the story doesn’t pack the same fire-power as the alluring visuals. In one inexplicable scene, the astronomer becomes possessed and rapes the ailing Paul. This leads in the same evening, if you will, to her giving birth to an insect while painfully screaming on a bed. What that means is beyond my Islamic knowledge.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”