Quest for Fire (French: La Guerre du feu) is a 1981 French-Canadianadventure film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud, written by Gérard Brach and starring Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi and Rae Dawn Chong. It is a film adaptation of the 1911homonymous Belgian novel by J.-H. Rosny. The story is set in Paleolithic Europe (80,000 years ago), with its plot surrounding the struggle for control of fire by early humans. It won the Academy Award for Makeup.
The Ulam are a tribe of Cro-Magnon who possess fire in the form of a carefully guarded small flame which they use to start larger bonfires. Driven out of their home after a bloody battle with the ape-like Wagabu (Homo erectus), the Ulam are horrified when their fire is accidentally extinguished in a marsh. Because the tribe does not know how to create fire themselves, the tribal elder decides to send three men, Naoh (Everett McGill), Amoukar (Ron Perlman) and Gaw (Nameer El-Kadi), on a quest to find fire.
The trio encounter several dangers on their trek, including an encounter with the Kzamm, a tribe of cannibals (Homo neandertalensis). The Kzamm have fire, and Naoh, Amoukar and Gaw determine to steal it. Gaw and Amoukar lure most of the Kzamm away from their encampment. Naoh kills the remaining warriors, but not before being bitten on the genitals by one, which causes him agony. The three Ulam take the Kzamm fire and prepare to head home.
A young woman named Ika (Rae Dawn Chong), who had been a captive of the Kzamm, follows them, seeking protection. She makes a primitive poultice to help Naoh recover from his injury. Later Amoukar attempts to have sex with Ika. She hides near Naoh, who then demonstrates his claim on her by mounting her in front of the other two males.
Ika soon recognizes that she is near her home and tries to persuade the Ulam trio to go with her. When they refuse, she leaves. At first Naoh continues without her, but finds he cannot stop thinking about her. He turns around, followed by the reluctant Gaw and Amoukar. After Naoh leaves the others to scout a village, he is trapped in quicksand, nearly sinking to his death, but is discovered and captured by the (early modern humans) Ivaka—Ika's tribe. At first, Naoh is subjected to several forms of humiliation by the Ivaka. He is forced to mate with the high-status women of the tribe, who are large and big-breasted. The petite Ika is excluded by her tribe, and when she attempts to lie near him later that night, she is chased away. The Ivaka soon demonstrate to Naoh their advanced culture: the ability to make fire.
Gaw and Amoukar find Naoh among the Ivaka. They try to rescue him but Naoh has come to identify as an Ivaka. At night, Ika helps them knock Naoh unconscious and escape the camp. The next day, Naoh washes off the Ivaka body paint. He tries to mount Ika again, but she teaches him the more intimate missionary position. Before they can reach their home, the three are beset by rivals from the Ulam tribe, but are able to defeat them using superior weapons stolen from the Ivaka.
Finally rejoining the Ulam tribe, the group present the fire to the delight of all. But during the ensuing celebration, the fire is accidentally again extinguished. Naoh tries to create a new fire as he'd seen in the Ivaka camp, but after several failed attempts, Ika takes over. Once the spark is lit, the tribe is overjoyed.
Months later, Naoh and Ika prepare to have a child.
- Gary Schwartz as Rouka
- Franck-Olivier Bonnet as Aghoo
- Jean-Michel Kindt as Lakar
- Kurt Schiegl as Faum
- Brian Gill as Modoc
- Terry Fitt as Hourk
- Bibi Caspari as Gammla
- Peter Elliott as Mikr
- Michelle Leduc as Matr
- Robert Lavoie as Tsor
- Mohamed Siad Cockei as Ota Otarok
- Tarlok Sing Seva as Tavawa
- Lolamal Kapisisi as Firemaker
- Hassannali Damji as Old Man in Tree
- Rod Bennett
- Jacques Demers
- Michel Drouet
- Michel Francoeur
- Charles Gosselin
- Bernard Kendall
- Benoit Levesque
- Joshua Melnick
- Jean-Claude Meunier
- Alex Quaglia
The movie was filmed on location in the Scottish Highlands and Tsavo National Park and Lake Magadi in Kenya. The opening sequence was filmed at Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island, BC (forest scenery) whereas the cave home was filmed at Greig's Caves on the Bruce Peninsula along the Niagara Escarpment near Lion's Head, Ontario.
Michael D. Moore was the associate producer in charge of action and animal scenes.
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Quest for Fire received positive reviews from critics. It currently holds an 83% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 18 reviews.
The film was nominated for six César Awards in 1981, winning those for best film and best director. In 1983 it won the Academy Award for Makeup. Also in 1983, it won in five categories in the Genie Awards.
The film, in keeping with the novel, presents two species of Homo: Homo neanderthalensis (Wagabu and Kzamm) and Homo sapiens (Ulam and Ivaka). The Ulam are portrayed as the stereotypical cavemen, in an intermediate stage of development compared to the ape-like Wagabu, on one hand, and the culturally more advanced Ivaka on the other.
The Ivaka are depicted as using body ornamentation (jewellery, body paint, masks, headgear), fully developed language and simple technology such as gourds as vessels and the atlatl. These are features that, in combination, amount to full behavioral modernity characteristic of the Upper Paleolithic.
The Ulam and Kzamm are depicted as light pigmented, the Kzamm even as red-haired, in a peculiar anticipation of the result of genetic studies conducted in the 2000s which concluded that some Neanderthals did indeed have red hair. The Ivaka woman, Ika, is depicted as wearing full body paint and is cast with a multiracial actress, leaving her racially indistinct. This is again in keeping with studies post-dating the film which established that light skin in European descendants of Cro-Magnon developed only towards the end of the Middle Paleolithic, or during the Upper Paleolithic.
The language spoken by the Ulam was created by Anthony Burgess. The more advanced language of the Ivaka was largely that of the Cree/Inuit native people of northern Canada, which caused some amusement among those in this group who saw the film, since the words have little to do with the plot. The gestural and body language was overseen by Desmond Morris, author of The Naked Ape.
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