A man gets lost in the Saharan desert. He wanders for days. Finally he finds a settlement of people but is in such a state of euphoria that he attacks his host. He then runs to the nearest rock formation and there hides from his pursuers. While hiding he is accosted by a jaguar who for some reason doesn't attack him. A friendship is born.
Passion in the Desert is based on a Honore de Balzac story and takes place in 17th century Egypt. When the film starts Napolean's Army is crossing the desert. After one nights stay they are attacked by the locals. Everyone dies except one officer named Augustin (Ben Daniels), and an artist Venture (Michel Piccoli). They head out together to find their way back to civilization.
Once the officer heads off on his own he runs into the jaguar and the film becomes a fantasy of sorts. At first the jaguar just won't let him leave. But then the officer begins to realize that he is safe around the jaguar – who he names Simoon [the movie's original title]. He begins to commune with nature and in time his affection for the jaguar grows. Heavy petting ensues.
Each scene in Passion in the Desert is beautifully shot and composed. But too each scene is a bit unsettling. The director, Lavinia Currier, goes for an off kilter mood in each scene. In the early scenes it is the artist who acts strangely. Then when the officer is alone he begins to act oddly. Partly it is because he is delirious with thirst and hunger. But too the film has an odd tone partly due to the fantastic element, which is easier to believe on the page than on the screen.
The relationship, of course, is the most difficult to believe. In the short story the man comes to appreciate the animal as something other than a godless beast. But the movie takes the relationship one step further. The man strips his civilized persona and becomes one with the jaguar. This works pretty well and is belivable. But the communication between man and animal does not work as well. Part of the reason is because the temperament of the jaguar is so casual as to be bored with all that is going on. Well trained, the jaguar often just hangs out licking himself and occasionally growling on cue.
That said, anyone who loves animals, large cats or jaguars will like the film. And the message of communing with nature and animals is not lost. Plus, the cinematography is gorgeous and the landscape [both Petra, Jordan and Moab, Utah] is beautiful to look at.
The DVD is presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and has been enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks great. The transfer is sharp, the wide open landscapes looks beautiful and well saturated color make for fine viewing.
Audio is in English Dolby Digital. The sound is mostly delicate since it takes place in a quiet desert locale. But it is strong when it needs to be and has a full array of natural sounds as well as a subtle soundtrack.
The only extra is a trailer from an old print.
Passion in the Desert is an entrancing film about a man who is befriended by a jaguar while lost in the Egyptian desert. The film has an odd tone but is captivating to the end. The DVD looks and sounds great.