"Dances with Leopards"
What You Need To Know:
PASSION IN THE DESERT has aspirations of epic movie making, but has neither the budget nor the breathtaking photography. Containing only about 20 lines of dialogue, it mostly shows Augustine wandering near death or playing with the leopard. Morally, many people will cringe as Augustine develops an almost sexual attraction to the cat. He also sheds all his clothes and runs around naked for about 20 minutes. Thematically, we are led to believe that he is becoming animal-like, but he quickly snaps to attention when the French troops re-appear. Hence, his cat show seems to be all a put-on. Finally, throughout the movie, we never get to know Augustine, his reasons for joining this mission, his own passions, any prior fascination he may have had with cats, and other enriching information that would have made his desert trip and leopard adventure more meaningful
(P, C, FR, L, VV, S, NN, M) Pagan worldview with appeals to Jesus for food & soldier makes sign of the trinity with some false-religious elements of references to the Jinn; one exclamatory profanity; moderate violence including battle scene, soldiers vandalize a Sphinx, implied suicide, chase scenes, & leopard attacks man; hints of bestiality; full naturalistic male nudity; and, a gory amputation, man steals water & disturbing images of man going insane.
PASSION IN THE DESERT is your basic “boy meets leopard/boy loses leopard” story. Actually, a low budget and mostly ineffective study of insanity, it documents a Napoleonic soldier, not becoming passionate, but becoming obsessive over a leopard in 18th Century Egypt.
It is 1798. Augustine Robert (Ben Daniels), a young captain in Napoleon’s doomed Egyptian expedition, follows orders to the letter. He is convinced that France can seize and manage Egypt because it is neatly bounded by the Nile and the Red Sea. In fact, he thinks one can never get lost in Egypt at all.
Augustine is accompanied by French artist and scholar Jean-Michel Venture de Paradies (Michael Piccoli), who documents the trip in pictures and paint. In a skirmish with fierce Mamaluke warriors, the two men are separated from the regiment. Duty-bound, Augustine protects Venture as best he can but is unprepared for the sandstorm that throws them off course. Wracked with thirst and on the verge of madness, Augustine goes off alone, and Venture first drinks his paint and then kills himself.
After Augustine steals some water, Bedouins chase him into a canyon where they leave him to what they believe are the supernatural forces that rule this place – the Jinns. In the dark of the night, a wild African leopard encounters Augustine. At first, Augustine is terrified, knowing that she could destroy him with one swipe of her claws. Instead, she observes him, and the two become best buddies. She lets him pet her, she shows him a secret watering hole, and she even shares her kills with him. Augustine is so enthralled with this experience, he goes feral and paints himself yellow with black dots. When the French troops surface again, does Augustine snap back to humanity or remain a wild beast.
Low-budget movies work best when they explore intimate subject matter in small intimate settings. Epic movie making with breathtaking locations is best served with a good cinematographer and a good budget to match. PASSION IN THE DESERT has aspirations of LAWRENCE OF ARABIA-type moments and even APOCALYPSE NOW-type moments, but unintentional chuckles arise when the soldiers blow up an entire 10-foot Sphinx instead of merely the nose off the towering 100-foot plus Sphinx. Likewise, the photography is very flat and dull, failing to add either beauty or menace to the desert.
PASSION IN THE DESERT only has about 20 lines of dialogue. Most of the time, Augustine and Venture wander around looking very tired and thirsty, which can be very monotonous. The real story of Augustine’s leopard relationship doesn’t start until halfway through the movie. This story has other problems. Morally, many people will cringe as Augustine develops an almost sexual attraction to the cat. In one shot, he lies down alongside her, like a lover, and kisses her. Thematically, though, we are led to believe that he is becoming animal like, but he quickly snaps to attention when the French troops re-appear. Hence, his cat show seems to be all a put-on. Finally, throughout the movie, we never get to know Augustine, his reasons for joining this mission, his own passions, any prior fascination he may have had with cats, and other enriching information that would have made his desert trip and leopard adventure more meaningful.
PASSION IN THE DESERT is an unusual and original subject matter for a movie. Rare is the movie which is filmed entirely in a desert. Rare too are the pure man vs. nature movies that prove entertaining, such as THE EDGE. Many of these type of movies are aimed for children and families such as THE INCREDIBLE JOURNEY and even THE SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON. Some parents may be enticed to take their children to see PASSION IN THE DESERT if they see an advertisement of a man playing with a leopard, but beware, not only is this movie cheaply produced, it also covers territory such as insanity, battle scenes and full-male nudity which aren’t exactly family material. Though there are few “boy and his cat” movies, there are many “boy and his dog” movies which will foot the bill for adventure and man vs. nature themes.