Tribeca 2024 Review: Pirópolis

From the film’s opening shot to the final haunting minutes, Nicolás Molina’s Pirópolis grabs your attention, immerses you into the world of volunteer firefighting in the Chilean wilderness near the city of Valparaíso, and never lets up. It’s a documentary that captures beauty amid destruction and chaos, and Molina doesn’t hesitate in showing what it’s like to be in a small brigade that has limited resources.

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Pirópolis takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to showing how the firefighters interact with each other in Valparaíso, and how they respond when their city has a huge fire erupt. The crew faces a lot of changes to their department, such as women coming onboard for the first time and adjusting their firehouse to accommodate them. Some discussions highlight how certain team members may have initially reacted years prior, but they have become more accepting of the integration of the opposite gender joining them.

When the wilderness catches fire, the Chileans call upon the French to assist them. But even then, the wildfire that catches the forest becomes more than the team can handle. And this is on top of having domestic calls from the locals.

One of the most intriguing aspects of Molina’s documentary is how it captures so many different issues in a 73-minute window. Tensions flare with political protests taking place and riots breaking out in the street. An intense moment places the viewer front and center of the protest, and the cameraman must hide the camera and escape from the crowd over the fear of being shot.

Nighttime images of the wilderness fire erupting are both eerie and breathtaking. Molina is able to show the beauty that can arise from destruction but is also able to show the aftermath and how much it impacts those involved. This is one of the most gorgeous and haunting documentaries to come out in recent years.

The conversations the firefighters have make the viewer feel like they are part of the crew, and they are enjoying the bonding that brings the crew together. The team discusses current events and societal issues, even taking jabs at the ridiculousness of pronoun usage.

By the end, there’s this feeling of a never-ending battle that the crew will face – whether it’s involving the destructive nature of fires or the limited resources they have available to them. When the credits roll, the viewer is left shaken by the uncertainty of what they’re facing next and what is going to come of their team.

Pirópolis is a masterful documentary, and one that should be shown to those wishing to enter the world of firefighting and those who have an overall interest in it. Molina has crafted something special with this real-world view of what these firefighters face each day and how their bond through it all remains strong. This is one of the best films to come out of this year’s Tribeca Film Festival.

David Wangberg

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