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Review: Forgiveness is elusive in ‘Fire Will Come,’ a remarkable drama from Spain

Benedicta Sánchez in the movie "Fire Will Come."
(KimStim)

Latent embers of mistrust flare up between a condemned man and his neighbors in Spanish writer-director Oliver Laxe’s quietly phenomenal “Fire Will Come.” The short and pensive Galician-language drama spares the audience the particulars of what came before in their feud, instead wielding staggering reflections on absolution or lack thereof.

Released from prison after serving time for an arson incident, middle-aged Amador (Amador Arias) treks back home unannounced to the rural town of Lugo, Spain, where his mother, Benedicta (Benedicta Sánchez), welcomes him. Herding cattle and tending to the land, he regains a furtive sense of belonging and even makes a new friend in the local veterinarian. Full reintegration, however, escapes him at the hand of men who taunt him for his past deeds and ensure no one forgets.

Shooting on 16mm stock for mesmeric effect, cinematographer Mauro Herce imbues the imposing landscapes with an enthralling quality that veers from the idyllically pastoral, as a cow basks in the late afternoon sun, to the hypnotic destructiveness of the fire promised in the title. In the region’s trees, Laxe finds conduits for metaphors about the perilous human condition, whether they are being bulldozed, ridden with disease, set ablaze or standing firmly amid chaos, like the barren trunk where Benedicta finds refuge.

She in turn is that immovable haven for Amador, providing shade from the rays of prejudice, believing he can start anew, and reminding him that those who hurt others are themselves hurting as well. Unspoken, her acceptance keeps the man from the abyss. A treasure of a first-time actress in her 80s, Sánchez is loving wisdom incarnate. Arias, also a screen debutant with an indecipherable rugged face, brings familial credibility to the silent mother-son relationship adorned with the occasional gentle bickering.

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In the wake of a blazing catastrophe, the townspeople deem Amador an irredeemable pariah, thus a making the truth of whether he caused the all-consuming horror irrelevant. But though the court of public opinion has sentenced him to a life defined by previous deeds, the cleansing power of the flames might leave a permanent mark, of the immaterial kind, once the ashes have settled. “Fire Will Come” is a pithy and devastating masterstroke from an auteur astute in his calibration of subdued emotional impact. Its discourse on forgiveness simmers in one’s mind inextinguishably.

‘Fire Will Come’

In Galician with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes

Playing: Available Nov. 6 via virtual cinemas, including Acropolis Cinema


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