SUMMARY: Two cowboys spend their days in the shelter of a large rock but at night they venture into the sexual bazaar of the town.
WHY IT’S HERE: German animator Andreas Hykade’s unflinchingly sexual but visually wonderful ‘Ring of Fire’ is definitely not one to show the children! In many ways, the film feels like a throwback to 70s animation in which sex played a significant part. But ‘Ring of Fire’ is so much more than a series of sexual images or a tribute to a bygone era of animation. This astonishing Western morality play, rendered in stark black and white, is a surrealist, psychedelic feast for the eyes and mind, in which two cowboys are beset with visions of sexual intensity that overwhelm them in different ways. The aggressive, confident cowboy revels in it while his awkward, uncertain counterpart wanders the sexual desert unsure of how to behave. Hykade takes the ludicrous Western genre cliché of women as either saints or whores as a central theme, although one of ‘Ring of Fire’s weaknesses is the impossibility to tell whether he is subverting or perpetuating this narrative tradition. The despoiling of a women whose purity is symbolised by her literally flowing hair is central to the story, as is the bordello of a woman dressed in black who will let in any cowboy who can shoot a hole through a coin. There’s a troubling tendency to define the women by how the men perceive and treat them, although the film can be seen as a fever dream entirely from the point of view of men (or even one man, if we see the two cowboys as elements of the same character) and therefore this would be consistent with the story. Any ideological problems aside, ‘Ring of Fire’ is a visually brilliant piece filled with graphical sexual images on which many different meaning can be hung. Hykade establishes himself as an animator of great talent, although his ambiguous storytelling, like the cowboys in his film, only seems occasionally confident and not always commendable.