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  Fire Will Come Those Useless Trees
Year: 2019
Director: Oliver Laxe
Stars: Amador Arias, Benedicta Sanchez, Inazio Abrao, Elena Mar Fernandez, David de Poso, Alvaro de Bazal, Damian Prado, Nando Vazquez, Manuel Martinez, Jose Luis Santalices, Manuel Santamarina, Antonio Fernandez, Nuria Sotelo, Ivan Yanez, Ruben Gomez Coelho
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: A eucalyptus tree forest in rural Spain, where the plants have taken over the landscape and strangled the other flora, so the earthmovers have arrived to basically knock them down in the hope they can be replaced by a more varied selection. In the middle of these trees is one that is not like the others, it is far bigger and more hardy, and no bulldozer is about to knock this example down. But there is another way to rid the locality of these eucalyptuses, and that is to use fire, which was what Amador (Amador Arias) did a while back, with the result that his nearby village was very nearly razed to the ground. He was imprisoned for this crime, but now he has been released, and with nowhere else to go returns to the village to live with his mother (Benedicta Sanchez).

Oliver Laxe was the brains behind Fire Will Come, or O que arde as it was originally called in its native Spain, one of his low key dramas with his signature use of non-professionals in the acting roles, for the reason that it would make the scenes feel more authentic if there was no obvious thespianism in the performances. Of course, that also has another effect, if you have seen a similar film to this before, as in a Robert Bresson work (which appears to be a major influence), you will be aware the non-performances can be stilted and artificial, or at least lacking in emotion as if the cast were reluctant to attempt any acting, and were too reserved to do anything but follow the director's instructions and speak what lines they were given, which here were not a tremendous amount.

If that studied naturalism has the opposite effect on you, in that you would be yearning for someone exhibiting something approaching personality, then you were not going to get along with this technique of arthouse cinema. On the other hand, if you preferred not to be privy to every little thought in every character's head, you might find Laxe's style refreshing, and there was no way into Amador's head, so we never discover why he set the fire of a few years before, or indeed if it was him who did it and he was a victim of mistaken identity - nothing about him comes across as particularly destructive as he sets about helping out at his mother's farm. Actually, we get more of an impression of the eightysomething old woman, specifically in a chat she shares with her son and she demonstrates a measure of understanding and forgiveness of the human condition.

In all its flaws. It was tempting to state the scenery was the real star here, as we spent more time immersed in its greys, greens and browns, and eventually, once the rain stops, its sunshine than we did inhabiting the minds of the denizens of the village. The plethora of shots of the trees, the hills, and the livestock served up a meditative air, as if the film was at one with nature, and that meant accepting that it will not always be benevolent, not merely down to the eucalyptuses which are more or less an invasive species, but also when the inevitable happens and another inferno breaks out. Did Amador start it? Who knows? Would he be that stupid? Can he not help himself? Is someone framing him who wants to destroy the forest, but also threatens the houses too? What you did contemplate was whether this fire, which was not created through visual effects, was happening anyway and Laxe's camera captured it, or whether he sparked it himself for the sake of art. Whichever, it was a striking finale, but unsatisfying as a non-conclusion.

[Click here to watch on MUBI.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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