Written by: Christopher Llewellyn Reed | October 29th, 2020
Fire Will Come (“O que arde”) (Oliver Laxe, 2019) 3 out of 4 stars.
Amador is haunted by flames past and present, those he has set ablaze and those that ignite of their own accord. Just released from prison, where he has spent an indeterminate number of years for arson, he returns to his small family farm in the mountains of Spain’s Galicia, where his aging mother is more than happy for his presence; the neighbors, less so. Everyone knows his history and is wary of it, especially given the region’s propensity for wildfires. One spark is all it would take to bring death and/or ruin to all. So begins Fire Will Come, from director Oliver Laxe (Mimosas), as it sets the stage for a slow burn of simmering drama and quiet rage.
Working with non-actors in the principal roles of Amador and his mother Benedicta (played by Amador Arias and Benedicta Sánchez), Laxe, who was born in France of Galician parents, and spent his formative years traveling back and forth, focuses his camera on the landscape of faces and nature, the weathered skin of his protagonists revealing more than words. Though stark, his artfully composed images offer the magnificent beauty of the area’s forests, even as they combust, smoke billowing into the sky atop an angry inferno, that orange column a perfect metaphor for what roils within our antihero.
Do not let that description fool you, however, for this is a film where not much appears to happen, unless one finds the daily management of a tiny family farm of great interest. And it is not without a certain kind of fascination, whether we see Amador roaming the hills with an old shepherd dog by his side, guiding his mother’s cows in their peregrinations, or Benedicta working her elderly, if still vibrant, body through the thick foliage that surrounds her place. The local townspeople come into play towards the end, when all hell doth break loose, but for most of the movie we are alone with our two central characters and their animals.
That is the great charm and the ultimate narrative void at the center of Laxe’s simultaneously engrossing and perplexing piece. It’s not the questions that remain by the conclusion that frustrate, for ellipses make for pleasant guesswork, but rather the sense that not all adds up to significant meaning beyond the accumulation of detail. We get to know these people in some ways intimately, yet they are still very much strangers by the time we say goodbye. Fire comes, yes, but beyond the destruction it leaves in its wake, what else changes? There is still Amador, sad and friendless, as always, still an outcast. The flames burn hot, but we never quite warm up. They’re nice to look at, though, and that is something.