Sunlight can be deceiving in Fire Will Come, a slow-paced, Galician-language drama from Óliver Laxe. On the one hand, it clears the fog and the rain, promising a new beginning. On the other, it invites destruction and evokes fire, perhaps razing the land completely. The Sun both gives life and takes it away, and warns us not to be too taken by its beguiling gaze. But for some who cannot look away, its relentless stare is simply too powerful to ignore.
Amador (non-professional Amador Coro) knows a thing or two about sunlight and fire. He’s just returned to rural Galicia from prison, where he served two years for arson. He seems a simple man, ready to return to his farm with his mother (Benedicta Coro) and start a new life. Adjusting to being back home is hard; the suspicious, tight-knit community is fully aware of who he is and what he has done. Seemingly trying to make amends and move forward with his life, Amador has an opportunity when he meets a veterinarian (Elena Fenandez) who rather symbolically helps a stuck cow out of the mud. Yet, the temptation to go back to his old ways (as symbolised by the Sun) digs at Amador, presenting a mythological choice between embracing life or death.
The result is both teasing and empathetic, a cruelly clever character study that calmly leaves us one step behind. With a moody atmosphere that evokes the slow cinema of Carlos Reygadas, and plain dialogue that hides deeper meaning in plain sight, Fire Will Come is a seemingly simple drama with many layers of deeper subtext underneath.
It is at once subtle and obvious, blending oblique and on-the-nose symbols, leaving it up to us to figure out which ones foretell danger and which ones merely illuminate (an obvious example is the title itself). One needle drop in particular (which I won’t ruin), is both obvious yet particularly affecting, and suggests much-needed grace while simultaneously hinting at something much darker underneath.
The drama here is unmistakably deliberate, the pacing designed to immerse you into the relaxing rhythms of rural life and its oh-so-delicate textures. Like a Russian master, Laxe packs the frame full of translucent imagery; fog rolls over hills, rain obscures window-shields, and diffuse, layered light makes it hard seeing across landscapes. Laxe also holds onto takes far longer than one would conventionally need too, showing off the immense beauty of the verdant hills and steep valleys, dark woods, and endless skies. The striking nature isn’t just there to heighten the drama; it is the drama itself, inextricable from Amador’s character.
Galicia, one of the poorest regions of Spain, has been left behind, with many of its inhabitants leaving for South America; the area is seemingly unable to rebrand itself in an effective way. Villagers repair old houses, clearing away shrubbery and re-tiling the roofs, sprucing them up to rent to tourists. Yet this work is very hard, with no promise that anyone will even bother to come. The problem with Fire Will Come — as seen through these left-field sociological surveys — is that the wider area is far more dynamic and nuanced than Amador himself, a blank slate whose personal drama plays out around him instead of actually inside him.
Such artistry is similar to dramatic landscape paintings used to portray Napoleonic-era wars or the Sturm und Drang era; while unmistakably evocative and beautiful, it overwhelms the character drama by forcing it into an epic comment on the way things are. Commendable for its ambition, Fire Will Come loses sight of the real humanity underneath. Therefore, while as an academic exercise it can’t be faulted, it lacks that certain final punch to really make you care. Plenty of smoke, but it needed more fire.
‘Fire Will Come’ played as part of 14 Films Around The World Festival at Kino in der KulturBrauerei in Berlin, Germany, a special selection of 14 films from 14 countries from Cannes, Locarno, Berlinale, Venice and more.