Oliver Laxe’s third feature film Fire Will Come premiered earlier this year in Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section and went home with the Jury Prize. It’s a very slow burn, dealing with the nature of retribution, man’s relationship to nature and the illusion of control.
The film’s main character Amador Coro (Amador Arias) is a pyromaniac, legend has it he “has set fire to an entire mountain”. Fire like that burns more than trees and bushes, it leaves behind a scorched earth. When Amador is released from prison after serving two years, he returns to a small Galician village in the hillside, a place where no one has forgotten him and no one was hoping to see him again.
The script by Laxe and Santiago Fillol is very reluctant to dole out details about the crime and its motivations. Amador himself isn’t exactly forthcoming, either. Returning to live with his elderly mother Benedicta, the two communicate by taciturn and slow rituals. Benedicta’s love for Amador is a tough one, and articulates an unspoken bond between people from humble beginnings, making the best of what’s left of their lives.
A big chunk of the movie follows Amador around as he tends to his mother’s three cows or helps her with household chores. The pacing is very measured and together with the sparse screenplay makes for a demanding viewing. Several vignettes roll along without any narrative thrust. The most memorable passage deals with the rescue of a cow from a river and a possible love story between Amador and Elena (Elena Fernandez), a vet slash bartender, is hinted at. Other scenes show Amador interacting with the villagers, believable, lived-in characters that resent him for his past but try to make amends.
The dreamy quality of the movie could make for an investing viewing in other circumstances. Here, it just adds to the spectator’s detachment from the screen. Nothing goes anywhere and gets there very slowly. The camerawork consists of earthy greens and browns, a landscape that is slightly muddy, slightly out of focus, pervaded by mists that hang above it like bad curses.
Of course, the fire comes, as promised. Suddenly something is at stake, suddenly something is happening. As the flames ravage the forests– hypnotic and harrowing – and firefighters struggle to get the situation under control, we are gripped with wonder and terror. How did Laxe manage to create and film such a magnificent fire? How can it ever be tamed?
Fire Will Come seems to work better in memory. It leaves a handful of powerful impressions and the certainty that no matter what mankind does, it is always too little, too late. In the midst of a global climate crisis – wildfires in Greece or California – it asks burning questions about the nature of guilt. Does it matter whether Amador was behind the wildfire? Is it enough to be guilty just once? Will we be better prepared for the fires to come or will they be more devastating?