Wednesday 18 March 2020

Blaze of glory: "Fire Will Come"

Oliver Laxe's Fire Will Come opens with a clutch of images apparently plucked direct from the subconscious. A Galician forest at night. An unexpected, almost Close Encounters-like light source. Trees that suddenly shift and sway, as if in a stiff breeze, only to then topple like dominoes. A rational explanation is forthcoming - the trees are being felled by construction workers - but taken with the title, these first five minutes establish a mood, at once foreboding and ominous, which lingers over the narrative that follows. This, it transpires, is far more grounded: middle-aged Amador (Amador Arias, touting some of that self-contained quality we associated with Harry Dean Stanton), who's returned to this neck of the woods after serving prison time for arson, readjusts to life on the farmland overseen by his aged mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sanchez). In summer, this location would presumably be the glorious site of one hundred happy holiday cottages - and this, indeed, is why that forest is being cleared - but Laxe made his biggest aesthetic decision when he started filming in late autumn/winter: early scenes, topped and tailed by overcast skies and muddy fields, have an evocative sense of downtime, the off-season. Amador mopes and smokes; Benedicta proves more active, as you'd expect from someone who's been left to run a farm by themselves; generally, everyone seems as entrenched as the cow we see stuck in a tributary at one point. Then something miraculous happens: the sun comes out.

That extra light helps to illuminate just what Laxe has done here, which is to relocate what has traditionally been an urban narrative (the jailbird trying to outrun his past) into a none-more-pastoral setting. The pacing slows, becomes contemplative (as 2016's Mimosas suggested, Laxe is staking out that terrain where the narrative and experimental cinemas meet); as an audience, we find ourselves responding to a different set of cues. The changing of seasons would seem a pretty good (not to mention plain pretty) marker of the potential for renewal and growth; but Amador also retains a bee in his bonnet about those holiday homes, and how their creators are trashing his environment. (In retrospect, those opening images do seem as much nightmare as dream.) That tension informs the entire film. Is our protagonist going to push on up the mountain, assume a peaceable, Zen-like existence as a herdsman, or is he fated to take up the matches once more? The title offers one answer, yet when the bomberos do show up amid the third act's forcefully convincing inferno - lean into the screen, and you can feel your eyebrows being singed - it's not clear what the cause of the conflagration is, nor quite what its consequences will be. (Some of the confusion derives from Laxe showing us the firefighters themselves lighting fires, in a bid to control the direction of the blaze.) You'll have to pick your own cautious way through the smouldering aftermath, as does the blind donkey we encounter en route, but there's no denying the film's vivid immediacy: with the confident touch he displays around often incandescent imagery, Laxe here establishes himself as either the Red Adair of new European directors, or a possible reincarnation of Keith Flint.

Fire Will Come will be available to stream via Curzon Home Cinema from Fri 3rd April.

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