★★★★★

It’s 1989 and convicted arsonist Amador (Amador Arias) has just been released from prison after setting forest fires in the Spanish countryside. Returning to his maternal home in the autonomous community of Galicia in northwest Spain, the quiet Amador tries to settle into the slowed quotidian rhythms of the landscape.

French director Oliver Laxe’s conjures a haunting atmosphere, balancing a bare narrative with spectral visuals. Fire Will Come’s first two scenes seem to contend with each other over what sort of film Laxe’s third feature will be – the first opens with wisps of moonlit smoke or mist that give way to collapsing eucalyptus trees, revealed to be being felled by a giant bulldozer. The sequence has almost a cinema vérité feel to it, like a documentary about deforestation, but it is also subtly – beautifully, even – constructed, a hypnotic, displaced image freed from context.

The second sequence is the opposite: the camera purposefully following a paper document through the hands of several officials, showing only their hands as the paper passes from officer to officer as they discuss the antics of a mysterious arsonist. It’s like a scene from a political or crime thriller, all momentum and function. Stylistically, the two couldn’t be more different, yet they represent the contradiction at the heart of the film’s enigmatic protagonist. The film’s often obtuse and laconic narrative plays second fiddle to Laxe’s textural mise en scène. But what a mise en scène it is.

Shooting on 35mm, Fire Will Come’s frame shimmers with such grainy, humid tactility that it is almost breathable. Cinematographer Mauro Herce soaks his Galician landscape in lush greens and browns that recede into wandering mists and eucalyptus forests, while the Vangelis-esque score expands the imaginative space beyond the limits of the frame. The tall, slender forests that cover the Galician hills, Amador’s gnarled elderly mother Benedicta (Benedicta Sanchéz), explains, are an invasive species that strangle the life out of their indigenous hosts. Perhaps the wiry Armando has something of the Eucalyptus in him, burning his way through the countryside as an invader, or maybe his fire is a purgative, a destructive force necessary for renewal.

That fire, prophesied by the title, is a Blakeian vision of Hellish creation, tearing through the landscape as firefighters battle to contain its elemental fury. Here, the purpose suggested in that early scene is unleashed, upending the rest of the film’s laconic reflection with ferocity, while Herce’s cool greens and browns are seared into burnt orange and charred blacks. By the film’s close, we are little the wiser to Armando’s motivations, let alone his true guilt; for those looking for narrative closure, it is somewhat less than satisfying. But be in no doubt: Fire Will Come is of an enigmatic and poetic cinema, borne of fierce, barely-contained vision.

Christopher Machell@MachellFilm