Saturday, April 4, 2020

Galician Fire

O que arde/Fire Will Come (2019) - Laxe
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Fire Will Come/O que arde starts with startling images of bulldozers logging at night, as trees violently shake before they are ran over, out of frame. It's deep in the rural Galicia, a northwestern region of Spain. With a pair of glowing yellow headlights in the fog, these machines appear more like demons of the night, rummaging through forest, looking for their prey.

Amador (played by non-professional Amador Arias) gets released from a prison where he was serving time for an arson he committed. He is a quiet fellow, but has an ancient face that tells thousands stories. He is greeted by his old mother Benedicta (also non-professional Benedicta Sanchez) in her old cot. In his absence, she has been tending to her three cows and an old German shepherd named Luna. Amador’s coming home doesn’t seem to make any ripples in her routine at all. Almost in silence, they go on with their daily routine as if nothing has changed. It’s a simple life. There’s no electricity or indoor plumbing. And the life out here has been this way forever.

There are some young villagers trying to fix up an old cottage, once the pride and joy of their more prosperous past now left in ruins. They are hoping the tourists will flock to the region. It is obvious that it's a fool's errand - the whole town not realizing that the good times have passed them by. The world is changing and the old rural towns like this, whether they like it or not, is dying rapidly with everyone in it.

People lead their simple lives in this sleepy old hamlet. The news of Amador's return quickly spreads through village and some people are uneasy about the presence of the arsonist. Amador keeps to himself, tends to cows, make fire in an old school stove, checks on the mountain spring, which is the water supply for the whole village and tends to his mother. There is even a possibility of romance between him and a local veterinarian who tended to one of his cows. Then a forest fire happens.

Laxe observes his beloved Galician region and its people simply and quietly. The old way of living is rapidly disappearing. The notion of time is more visible in these parts of the world because it's close to nature. There is obviously an environmental message with clear-cut logging and our inability to deal with large scale disasters which will happen again and again, whether it's man-made or not. Nature doesn't give a shit about what we are or our feelings. It rings true now more than ever, as the American West deals with uncontrollable forest fire year after year, due to global warming which accelerates these disasters. The future can't exist separately from our past and present. The notion of progress is just repetitions, accumulations and intensifications of time as it circulates, suspends and speeds up. If our past and present don't look good, no matter how much 'progress' we make, the future isn't going to be sunny.

Fire, like time, is a great equalizer. Laxe here seems to be playing with this almost biblical theme. Fire Will Come gives us some stunning images of beauty of Galicia. We see Benedicta taking refuge in a hollowed out tree in the rain. We see Amador and Luna looking over the town from a hill up above, Amador walking home in the fog, an immaciated horse trotting in a burnt out forest.... His mix of naturalism and documentary style gives poeticism even in the scenes of forest fire and fire fighters combating it. The film is just as striking as Amador's serene face. It's just beautiful filmmaking all through out.

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