There’s not too much story in “Fire Will Come,” but once the title promise comes to fruition, the viewer has come to care about its characters and how they will weather a devastating forest blaze.
The opening shots of this new film from the French-born Spanish director Oliver Laxe constitute a kind of declaration of aesthetic principles. Deep in a dark forest, the cinematographer Mauro Herce’s camera descends from a height, then glides ahead, slowly. In unobtrusive cuts, the frame reveals more detail, accentuating the bareness of the trees. The images evoke curiosity and awe without being pompous about it. And soon we see a bulldozer, piling into the wood.
A realist account of humanity making its way in the natural world — the cast is made up of nonactors, residents of the part of Galicia where the film was made, and they play characters named after themselves — “Fire Will Come” is very short on story. Amador Arias Mon plays Amador, a haunted-looking man (the performer has a bit of a Harry Dean Stanton aura) just paroled after serving a couple of years on an arson charge.
After his release he moves into a small house with his aged mother and a sweet German shepherd dog named Luna. He’s distrusted by many neighbors — his presumed fire-starting, which he never discusses, wreaked havoc on a nearby forest. He seems bemused by various home restoration projects in town. These are undertaken in the hope of making the picturesque region more attractive to tourism.
Amador and his mom own a couple of cows, which Amador and Luna take grazing. Amador tries to make himself useful in other ways, unblocking a stream to help nearby laborers get access to water. It’s a quiet life, and perhaps a healing one.
But Amador sees the threats to it everywhere. He comments on the cancer from which the indigenous trees suffer. And he bemoans the planting of eucalyptus trees, which strangle the plant life native to the land.
For a while, that’s about it. Amador becomes friendly with a local animal doctor, and in one scene they’re driving, and she plays Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” for him on her car stereo. “I like how it sounds, but I don’t know what it says,” Amador observes. All of which is a little bit Self-Conscious-Art-Filmish, but not fatally so.
Eventually the title promise is fulfilled. Amador is not the guilty party in this forest fire, but we don’t ever learn if that will make a difference. The movie instead immerses itself in the catastrophic event and the heroic efforts of firefighters to contain it. Here “Fire Will Come” practically becomes a documentary, and a devastating one at that.
Fire Will ComeNot rated. In Galician and Spanish, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 26 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.