I was ready to pan up and coming auteur Oliver Laxe’s newest film “Fire Will Come”. I was fully prepared to write it off as an underdeveloped and empty mass of images with no depth. And yet, that’s not the position I’m about to take. Yes, Laxe makes clear he has no interest at running any faster than the most languid of paces, and the lack of depth remains egregious, but when the titular fire finally comes, the devastation hits like running into a glass door, and it shattered my negative opinion and changed my mind.
A quiet and timid pyromaniac is our protagonist; his name is Amador (Amador Arias). When we first meet him, he is fresh out of prison for igniting a blaze that burnt out two-thirds of a mountainside. With nowhere else to go he returns home to his mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez) in his hometown located in the Galicia community of Spain. He arrives to a town he wronged with his crime, and silently takes their mockery as he tries to live life anew.
Amador living life is the bulk of the film, which is the biggest problem. His life is far from exciting, and if it weren’t for the beautiful landscapes of the region, this could never have worked. Galicia is sublime and rich with the most picturesque mountains and bushland, it just makes you wish anything about this section of the film was interesting. Amador’s life is monotonous and draining. He spends his days near speechless tending to his mother’s three cows. When he does speak to people, it’s all empty words developing the already obvious fact that he wants to be alone. Everything comes across as if Laxe was making a character study with no interest in actually studying his character.
Thankfully this changes, and as harsh as everything I said is, the best is very much yet to come. When it does, it comes in the form of a bush fire up a mountain heading directly for houses. We see Amador inconspicuously driving away from it as firefighters begin to arrive. Then we leave him and follow the men in harm’s way. Their priority is to save homes, as it is for all firefighters, and thankfully none seem to be in danger. However, en route they get the unwelcome news that the fire is closer to a village than anticipated, a village with no fire station. Chaos ensues, two young men are sent up a path through the bush to get to this village while the others head on to fight the flame directly.
For all the incredible imagery in Fire Will Come, nothing is more impactful than the few minutes we get inside the village of La Vegia. An old man stands amongst it as everyone else evacuates, and he’s holding onto a garden hose, spraying water on what he believes will soon be the burnt-up surrounds of his house and achieving nothing. The two young men try and get him to stop, but he refuses, and at that moment, the entire film clicked in my mind.
It’s still heavily flawed, but it became clear that this is something I had never seen anything like before. A community, swarmed by fog and rain, forced to fight something trying to destroy them. And once again Amador is the clear suspect. Potentially, his depiction of living life amongst them is that of a perverted criminal scouting his prey, leading up to the film pointing to its title and saying, “I told you so”. He could also be a monster who indulges destruction only to sedate himself, with no ability to care for others. On the other hand, Amador may well be a simple man trying to turn his life around, who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. The film provides no answer, but the brilliance lies in the question even existing. Amador doesn’t so much as light a match throughout, he appears reformed, yet regardless he reeks of guilt by the end.
Fire Will Come is undeniably flawed. Yet it ends with such an impactful crescendo that you can’t help but think there’s something brilliant hidden in the flames.
The cinema release date is March 20th.
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