Fire Will Come Review
The title of Oliver Laxe’s third feature, Fire Will Come (O que arde), suggests something overwhelming and powerful, alluding to the near uncontrollable rage that fuels the element. While it eventually reaches something close to that point, for the most part, Laxe’s film is a slow burning study of man returning to a small rural community he has been convicted of harming. Whether he was rightly or wrongly accused of his crime is never revealed, but no matter, because even though two years have passed, most locals won’t let him forget it.
Wildfires in the Galicia region of Spain are common place. But the one Amador (Amador Arias) was found guilty of starting "almost set the whole mountain on fire" and saw him sentenced to serious time behind bars. Now released on probation, it’s time for him to go back and live with his mother and three cows on her modest isolated farm. Life out in the sticks is something Amador is accustomed to, but as a middle-aged man returning home from prison his options aren’t exactly plentiful, so sinking into the daily routine is all that’s left to do. And as we see in a news bulletin about the replacement of a church bell, life around these parts isn't exactly fast-paced.
Laxe’s approach to telling Amador’s story asks us to accompany the man in his quiet solitude while surrounded by the beautiful Galician countryside. He caps the runtime at a concise 80 minutes and journeys through the days and nights Amador spends tending to the farm and helping his elderly, but sprightly, mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez – who won the Best New Actress award at the Goyas). Mother and son barely exchange a word, let alone affection, but she is relieved he is a free man again and happy to have him back home.
Villagers openly laugh and joke about Amador’s criminal past and all he can do is turn a blind eye. His presence is tolerated mostly thanks to his mother, but essentially he has been turned into an outcast and he spends his time taking long strolls accompanied only by cattle and the family dog. Hope of something more is offered by a neighbour renovating a nearby house who invites him to share a drink, but Amador is reluctant to mingle. He makes tentative steps toward befriending a vet called Elena (Elena Fernandez) who appears to return his initial interest until his past rears its head once again.
The quiet ambience of the Galician landscape seems of more interest to Laxe than any plot itself (Laxe's mother was raised in the film's town) as DP Mauro Herce's grainy 16mm stock textures a colour-stripped winter and sun-kissed spring filled with rolling dales and green and yellow pastures. Events edge themselves into a final act that shows how nature’s good health exists on a knife’s edge, reliant on both its own resources and that of our own to maintain it. Multiple references to the eucalyptus tree symbolise that idea, a shrub Amador believes selfishly eats up the land around it to maintain its own strength. We also see a forest filled with the tree being mowed down by bulldozers at the film’s start, before they are stopped in their tracks at the sight of a grand oak towering above them.
Where the first hour of the film is characterised by its quietness, the last 20 minutes spring to life with the explosion of another wildfire. It’s an eruption from within the heart of the land and representative of Amador’s broken fortitude. There’s nothing left for him here – the life he enjoyed before prison was reduced to ashes in the first blaze – and an isolated existence on the farm doesn’t offer much comfort. He does a good job of holding it in, but deep down he's a raging furnace.
As he did in You Are All Captains and Mimosas, Laxe puts his faith in non-professional actors, trusting them to capture the naturalness of his character’s lives. It’s a decision that pays off well and works in tandem with Laxe’s understanding of the region (he was raised in Galicia). He knows the land and the people who live on and from it, and the ways humans inflict so much damage on each other and the world around them. Even in a region known as the land of the thousand rivers, dousing the flames of a troubled soul doesn’t prove easy.
Fire Will Come is available to watch on Curzon Home Cinema from March 20.