Saturday 1 January 2022

Streaming on Stan - 🎥 Janice Tong welcomes FIRE WILL COME/O QUE ARDE (Oliver Laxe, Galicia, 2019)

"much like early Herzog...mesmerising and stoic...", Fire Will Come

It isn’t often that you come across a cinema that is both reverential and worldly. Here, in Oliver Laxe’s Fire Will Come each sequence is brimming with the languid and yet sobering impressions  of human endeavour, whether it’s like that of Benjamin’s description of Klee’s Angelus Novus or an unaided meditation of nature; know that there is something at work. 


We follow the lived days of a man just out of prison, Amador (Amador Arias exudes a strong cinematic presence in this film) returns to his hometown, the small mountain-side village of Galicia in the northwest region of Spain, to stay with his elderly mother. He needs time to get back on his feet. He makes himself useful by fixing things around the house, and tending to the three emaciated cows (and a lone calf) by herding them farther afield for fresh grass. He is quiet, likeable and you can tell that he’s benefiting from the outdoor physical work. His mind is at rest. 


His mother, Benedicta (played by the equally wonderful Benedicta Sánchez) is a quiet observer of his labours. Benedicta must be pushing 90 and yet she is steady on her feet and her wiry frame and demeanour is like that of a mountain goat’s. The pair seem to be in exile in their own homeland. 


Arias and Sánchez are both non-actors. Their naturalistic presence imbues the film with much depth, plays to the lyricism of the story and juxtaposes a world that is ready to move on and get ahead of the times (old houses are being repaired for tourists - which conjures up the rather sad tagline of “if you build it, they will come”). Their rhythm  is more in tune with the land, a gentle destruction; the entropic power of a dripping of a tap. Interesting to note that Sánchez won the Goya Award for the Best New Actress in 2020, making her the oldest actress to be awarded in this category. She also received the  Castelao Medal in 2019 for her distinguished contribution to Galician arts.


I was so pleased to learn that this film won the Jury Prize at the 2019 Un Certain Regard at Cannes and also won best film, the Golden Astor,at the 34th Mar del Plata International Film Festival. It’s an accomplished film that draws you in even though not much is happening on the surface; or, another way of putting it, all the effort that has been put in makes it look entirely effortless. The film is captured on Kodak Super16mm film by the Spanish cinematographer Mauro Herce, who had worked on Laxe’s previous film Mimosas (2016). 


Strong cinematic presence from both Amador Arias, left, and Benedicta Sánchez

The Galician language is beautiful and melodic (apparently it’s very close to Portuguese), and cultivates a quiet ambience of the two lone figures. The language pairs well with the use of music in the film. I’m always in awe of the purity in Andreas Scholl’s countertenor voice; his rendition (with the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra) of Vivaldi’s Cum Dederit soars above the detritus and ruinous times; here in the mountains is where art or philosophy and the everyday can and must meet. 


In another scene, Elena, a vet who Amador has taken a fancy to, shares a moment in the car with him. Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne is playing and when asked whether he likes the music, Amador answers that he likes the song, but doesn’t know what he’s saying. Elena replies, “you don’t have to understand the lyrics to get the music”. And she is right, the fateful yearning this song delivers gets you in straight away, it hums of a longing that is unfulfilled, or perhaps, unfulfillable. And you don’t need to know the history behind the song about Cohen’s relationship the dancer Suzanne Verdal, one that never amounted to any physical intimacy to that point (Cohen says that he never had the opportunity or the inclination) to know its prophetic nature for Amador and Elena. 


But for me, it is the opening sequence of this film that made its mark. At once haunting and mesmeric, you realise that can’t turn away in the face of horror, when your mind finally catches up to what you’re seeing. Even in full understanding of what’s happening, you still remain glued to its strange beauty.


Laxe’s cinematic language is that of poetic stoicism, much like early Herzog but without the heartless wilderness or the evocation of folklore. Indeed, much is understood without the need of words or analysis; you simply need to be present.

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