'Fire Will Come' Review: A Slow-Burn That Transforms Into A Raging Inferno [NYFF 2019]

Oliver Laxe fixates on the arresting mystery, darkness, and light of nature and humanity in Fire Will Come, which opens on the damning majesty of slender eucalyptus trees. The eucalyptus trees stand tranquil, until they tumble down as if swallowed by a beast of mythical size. Said beast is revealed to be a rolling bulldozer, a mechanical yet sentient-seeming metallic force. It halts before a mighty tree, staring down a new match.

It's agonizing for me to not to read into Fire Will Come in terms of the urgency and recency of wildfires—some intentionally set by human hands for land grabs—around the world, including the Amazon rainforests, sub-Saharan Africa, and California. Fires are omens, a force cleansing the world and leaving patches of wasteland and brittle barks, and spelling more danger for the climate crisis. Mauro Herce's sumptuous cinematography beautifies and amplifies the intimidating size of nature, from the thriving greens to the monstrous forest fires to the stark trunks stripped of their life. Nature is ready to give as it is ready to swallow.

For the countryside of rural Galicia, Spain, there seems to be an explanation for a past wildfire pinned on one ex-convict, Amador (Amador Arias with a weathered disposition). When the convicted arsonist is released from jail, he rejoins his elderly mother (Benedicta Sánchez) in the mountainous countryside where he reacclimatizes into a society wary about welcoming him back. His mother takes him back, not coldly, but not passionately either, still processing his return.

Tension simmers in Amador's return. Has he truly rehabilitated? Is he resentful? He's too much of an enigma to tell. No motivations are given to his crime. There's not much sureness to glean from his placid demeanor on his line-hardened countenance. Amador doesn't outwardly appear to be a man of malice and demonstrates more softness than resentment upon his release. He seems adjusted back into society and handles livestock with mildness, patiently attempting to sweet-talk and guide a frightened cow. His nearly taciturn rapport with his mother seems intact, and he forms an arm-lengths connection with a vet (Elena Fernandez). He withholds his dark past from the latter, and when she learns about it, she remarks, "You know how people are," as if she understands they did not have sincere reasons to reveal his dirty laundry. He never feels like a ticking time bomb.

As the title literally prophesizes, fire does come, and boy, is it a maelstrom bringing the villagers to their knees. The town cannot come to grips with the magnitude of this disaster. The camera captures the feeble shock of the town in the inflammatory frenzy, particularly when a fireman coaxes a senior citizen to let go of his running garden hose aimed at smoke. There is no explanation for this fire. Naturally, the neighbors default to blaming Amador, but even his culpability is left tentative, leaving the audience to fathom other mysterious forces at play.

Fire Will Come can lag longer than its reasonable 85-minute running time, but its slow burn solidifies the impending dread and awe over the disintegration of idyllicism. Through the smog of its leitmotifs, I perceive the not-pleasant takeaway that doom will come for nature and mankind. Fire Will Come knows how deeply threatening and threatened both man and nature are. Co-existence will always be fraught.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10