Passion in the Desert (1997)

 “Let the Jinn destroy him.”

In 1798, Napoleonic officer, Augustin Robert (Ben Daniels) heads a convey assigned to accompany an artist through the desert in Egypt. The artist, Jean-Michel Venture de Paradis (Michel Piccoli) is commissioned by Napoleon to sketch various historical ruins. Augustin and his men are attacked by Bedouins, and during a sandstorm, the artist and Augustin are separated from what’s left of the convey, and the pair wander lost in the desert sands.

Augustin eventually is forced to take refuge in some spectacular ruins. Here he stumbles into the lair of a beautiful female leopard. Over time, Augustin and the leopard engage in a bizarre relationship.

Passion in the Desert is not an art film version of Born Free–rather it’s an imaginative exercise in a surreal relationship. There are elements of love, jealousy, and passion between Augustin and the leopard, and the film is essentially an erotic fantasy. The film is based on a short story by Balzac, and the director, Lavinia Currier does a remarkable job of translating an impossible scenario to film. Balzac was a tremendous student of human nature, but he was also fascinated with the supernatural. Many of Balzac’s lesser-known works are bizarre–The Unknown Masterpiece, The Magic Skin and The Elixir of Life, for example. Passion in the Desert definitely falls into Balzac’s bizarre category. The film is not heavy on dialogue, and the strong reliance on visualization works due to the director’s skill. The lack of dialogue and the tiny cast serve to emphasize Augustin’s isolation, and the result is a bizarre yet strangely hypnotic film. From director Lavinia Currier.

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