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Plexifilm presents
Ilé Aiyé (The House of Life) (1989)

"There are mysteries that cannot be explained. And one of them is the Orisha."
- Zeze

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 14, 2004

Director: David Byrne

MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 00h:50m:51s
Release Date: August 31, 2004
UPC: 082354002022
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B- CBB- C+

DVD Review

It's hard to watch this documentary and not think of an old cartoon that appeared in the late, lamented Spy Magazine in the late 1980s, which showed David Byrne and Paul Simon, doing their best to look incognito in safari gear, happening upon one another in the rainforest, each in search of musical inspiration. This is actually a pretty respectful documentary, produced in 1989 by Byrne, but given that it's mostly eye and ear candy, the natural conclusion is that there's some serious cultural dilettantism at work here—at the time Byrne was three years removed from having directed True Stories, the apex of his mannered oddness, and even though Talking Heads hadn't formally broken up, their best music was behind them and Byrne was visibly chafing at the restraints of being part of a band. This film came out the same year as Byrne's Brazilian-inflected solo album, Rei Momo, and no doubt the inspiration for that CD and the impetus to make this film came from the same place.

This is ostensibly a look at Candomblé, the manifestation of the African heritage of many Brazilians; it's got musical and religious aspects, as well as broader cultural significances, and seems to play a crucial role in the daily and spiritual lives of those in and around Bahia. Byrne's movie isn’t much of an explication, though; it's more a series of audiovisual postcards, emphasizing the exoticism and otherness of Candomblé. There seems to be a dense symbolic structure at work here, but Byrne provides us only with the occasional and usually impenetrable title card—e.g., "The Earth Health and Sickness." The locals speak for themselves, and they're clearest to us when discussing the political problems inherent in practicing Candomblé—they have teased out some affinities between their spiritual practices and Catholicism, principally to use the Roman Catholic Church as a useful cover to avoid persecution.

Candomblé challenges our conventional Western notions of religion, for it's full of myths and folk tales, homeopathic remedies, the spiritual lives of inanimate objects, and the emphasis on working oneself into a trance-like state; much of the movie focuses on the Orishas, the principal practitioners of Candomblé. Ultimately, though, you may wonder how Byrne and his crew set about editing this, as it's principally just lots and lots of footage—part documentary, part music video, part sociology, part entertainment. It's full of visual and aural stimulation, but in many respects it generates more heat than light. 

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The image quality tends to be a little soft and fuzzy here, though the transfer to DVD seems to be fine, with no significant scratching or debris.

Image Transfer Grade: B


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes

Audio Transfer Review: There's a certain amount of hiss throughout, but that likely has more to do with the location shooting than with the audio transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Static menu
1 Feature/Episode commentary by David Byrne
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. accompanying booklet with essays by David Byrne and Luc Sante
Extras Review: Byrne gets his Joseph Campbell on in the commentary track, recorded in June 2004, explicating some of the puzzling symbols for us—for instance, one scene shows one of the Orishas showering herself in popcorn, and Byrne explains that this is symbolically connected to leprosy and the god of healing. It would have been nice to have known that during the feature, because all Byrne gives his audience, really, is a woman covering herself with popcorn. Byrne obviously has learned about the culture, but you sometimes get the sense here that, while making the movie, he decided he was too cool to share. More rewarding are the two accompanying essays, especially the one by Luc Sante, who provides still more information, and is just loopy for Byrne; then again, the piece was published in Interview in 1989, so that's probably par for the course.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

This is less for ardent students of South American cultures and more for acolytes of David Byrne's patented deadpan late ‘80s cool. How many times can you watch Stop Making Sense, anyway? 


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