"Like a candle"
South America. A dusty little town, close to nothing but some US oil interests. The economics of the region make it easier to come in than it is to leave. This has stranded a number of adventurous types looking to make their fortune, or at least their way in the world. Mostly, they sit around, waiting for something to happen.
Thus, when the oil company has the misfortune of a well fire, it presents the opportunity for the unemployed to compete for four high-risk jobs to get a substantial amount of nitroglycerin to the site. It seems that a substantial enough blast would put out the fire like blowing out a candle.
The film's two-and-a-half hours progress so slowly that we really know our principals before actually getting to the nitro plot. Their character and relationships are set out before us before we start exploring how they perform under pressure.
My not-so-trained ears picked out at least four different languages, at least three of which were more than just in passing. You'd really have to be multilingual to not need subtitles on this one. This kind of treatment remains fairly rare, and while I can understand why, it would be nice to see this more often. Language doesn't determine character, not by a long shot, but the mix allows for new choices in the script and performances we wouldn't otherwise see... er, hear, that is.
As the journey to the well fire unfolds, we truly feel the tension. Director Clouzot presents a simultaneously physical and emotional process without skimping, and with barely any room for us to catch our breath. Over the many miles/kilometers (the film realistically presents us with US-made vehicles in an otherwise metric world), something could go wrong at almost any moment, and quite often does. It would be shame to spoil the ending for anyone, but rest assured it is well earned.
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