Quest for Fire (film): Wikis


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Quest For Fire

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud
Produced by Jacques Dorfmann
John Kemeny
Véra Belmont
Denis Héroux
Michael Gruskoff
Written by Gérard Brach
J.-H. Rosny aîné (novel)
Starring Everett McGill
Rae Dawn Chong
Ron Perlman
Nameer El-Kadi
Music by Philippe Sarde
Cinematography Claude Agostini
Editing by Yves Langlois
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s) February 12, 1982 (1982-02-12)
Running time 100 minutes
Country Canada
United States
Language Invented language
Budget $12.5 million

Quest for Fire (French: La Guerre du feu) is a 1981 film based on the 1911 French novel by J.-H. Rosny aîné (1856–1940). Directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and adapted by Gérard Brach, the film stars Everett McGill, Ron Perlman, Nameer El-Kadi, and Rae Dawn Chong. It won the Academy Award for Makeup. Michael D. Moore was the associate producer in charge of action & animal scenes.

It is set in Paleolithic Europe, 80,000 years ago, its plot surrounding the struggle for control of fire by early humans.



The film begins with an attack of the ape-like Wagabu tribe on the Neanderthal Ulam tribe. Driven out of their home by the Wagabu, the surviving Ulam escape but are chased into a marsh by a pack of wolves. The Ulam fire tender escapes with the tribe's remaining fire, however after crossing a marsh, the moisture and wind douse the embers, leaving the tribe to die from exposure and starvation. The Ulam elder decides to send three men, Naoh (Everett McGill), Amoukar (Ron Perlman) and Gaw (Nameer El-Kadi), out on a dangerous quest for fire.

After a frightening encounter with a pair of saber-toothed cats, the Ulam scouting trio enters territory of the Kzamm tribe, who resort to capturing members of the Homo sapiens Ivaka tribe as cannibalistic victims. Naoh manages to steal some fire from the Kzamms, but not without being injured in a fight with two of them. One of his injuries is apparently a bite to the genitals, and he spends a fair amount of time in visible agony from this. He rejoins Gaw and Amoukar. A young woman named Ika (Rae Dawn Chong), an Ivaka prisoner who escapes with Naoh, follows them seeking protection. Despite attempts by Amoukar to drive her off, she follows, eventually taking advantage of a food-gather by Amoukar and Gaw to approach Naoh. She makes a primitive poultice, helping him recover from his injury. She also appears to perform a sex act on him, as evidenced by the sudden look on his face, perhaps to ingratiate herself with him.

The four begin their trek towards the Ulam, followed by the Kzamm. Attacked by the hostile tribe, the group takes advantage of a wandering herd of mammoths to make good their escape. While they travel back towards the Ulam grounds, Amoukar attempts to make a pass at Ika: she hides near Naoh, who then shows his bond with her by forcing sex upon her in front of the other two males. Ika and Naoh continue to bond.

One day, Ika recognizes that she is near her home. She tries to persuade the Ulam trio to go with her, but either the men's sense of purpose or the lack of a common language with the woman keeps them together on their way back to the Ulam. However, when Ika leaves them the next morning, Naoh is upset; at first he 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 ambushed and captured by the Ivaka.

At first, he is teased and subjected to several forms of humiliation, but eventually the Ivaka accept him and show him their ways. The Ivaka is the most advanced tribe depicted. They have atlatls, arts (body painting, huts, ornaments, primitive pottery), and most importantly, fire. When Naoh is taught how to make fire, he is overwhelmed and his life is changed forever.

Growing impatient, Gaw and Amoukar go to find Naoh and are also captured. During their ordeal, they are disturbed to realize that one of the teasers is Naoh, initially unrecognizable as he now wears the full body-paint of the Ivaka. When Gaw and Amoukar begin their escape during the night, Amoukar tries to inform Naoh of their plan but Naoh pretends that he doesn't understand their native language. Frustrated from the day's events, Amoukar 'persuades' Naoh to come along by knocking him unconscious. Ika, realizing she loves Naoh, follows the trio and helps them escape.

On their way back home, the four run into a trio of Ulam hunters, led by Aghoo, Naoh's rival as dominant male of the tribe. Left by Naoh and Amoukar to guard the fire with Ika, Gaw is severely wounded in a fight with a mother cave bear, barely managing to escape. The other three members of the group find Gaw, and Amoukar carries him over his shoulder. When attacked by the Ulam rivals, the group uses several spear throwers stolen from the Ivaka. Using them to dispatch their enemies, they demonstrate the advantages of embracing new technologies.

Upon rejoining the Ulam tribe, the fire tender, having been given the flame, prompts the tribesfolk into an outburst of joy. Due to the ensuing euphoria, the fire tender ends up falling in the water, extinguishing the fire. Naoh tries to create fire by using some sticks, dung and dry grasses. After several failed attempts, Ika takes over, carefully rubbing the dry sticks together. Once the spark is lit, the tribe is overjoyed, cheering and overwhelmed. In the end, Naoh discovers that Ika is pregnant with their child. In the intervening time, Ika has taught Naoh how to make love in the missionary position, a contrast with the short, rough copulations from behind seen several times before. Naoh caresses Ika while gazing at the brightly lit moon.


Ulam tribe

  • Gary Schwartz ... Rouka
  • Naseer El-Kadi ... Nam
  • Franck-Olivier Bonnet ... Aghoo
  • Jean-Michel Kindt ... Lakar
  • Kurt Schiegl ... Faum
  • Brian Gill ... Modoc
  • Terry Fitt ... Hourk
  • Bibi Caspari ... Gammla
  • Peter Elliott ... Mikr
  • Michelle Leduc ... Matr
  • Robert Lavoie ... Tsor

Ivaka tribe

  • Mohamed Siad Cokei ... Ota Otarok
  • Tarlok Sing Seva ... Tavawa
  • Lolamal Kapisisi ... Firemaker
  • Hassannali Damji ... Old Man in Tree

Kzamm tribe


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.

Rotten Tomatoes gives it a score of 79%, based on 14 reviews.

Historical accuracy

As an adaptation of a 1911 novel, the film's fidelity to the novel must be judged separately from its compatibility with the tenets of paleoanthropology at the time of its production.

The story of the novel takes place 80,000 years ago, during the last glacial period. The movie adheres to this date, but in the commentary accompanying the DVD release, the director Annaud stated that a much earlier date would actually have been more reasonable if he had made the film recently with modern knowledge of the subject matter.

The film, in keeping with the novel, presents three species of Homo: Homo erectus (Wagabu), Homo neanderthalensis (Ulam, Kzamm) and Homo sapiens (Ivaka). The Neanderthals are portrayed as the stereotypical cavemen, in an intermediate stage of development compared to the ape-like erectus on one hand, and the culturally more advanced sapiens on the other. According to current knowledge, Neanderthal interaction with Cro-Magnons has taken place only significantly later than 80,000 years ago, from about 40,000 to 20,000 years ago. At no time was there a "triangular" constellation of neanderthalensis vs. erectus vs. sapiens. Homo erectus has died out before 100,000 years ago, and both neanderthalensis and sapiens are likely its descendant species. The sapiens tribe (Ivaka) is depicted as using body ornamentation (jewellery, body paint, masks, headgear), fully developed language and simple technology such as gourds as vessels and the atlatl, features that in combination amount to full behavioral modernity characteristic of the Upper Paleolithic.

The Neanderthals are depicted as white, the Kzamm even as red-haired, in a peculiar anticipation of the result of genetic studies conducted in the 2000s[1] which concluded that some Neanderthals did indeed have red hair. The sapiens 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.[2]

The possibility of interbreeding of Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals, shown at the end of the movie, is still controversially debated today.[3][4][5]

The language spoken by the Neanderthals was created by Anthony Burgess. The more advanced language of the Ivaka, according to Annaud's commentary on the DVD, was largely that of the Cree/Inuit native people of northern Canada, which apparently has caused some amusement among those in this group who have seen this 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.


External links

See also

Preceded by
The Last Metro
César Award for Best Film
Succeeded by
La Balance

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