Fire will come
The first two films by Oliver Laxe, You are all captains (2010) and Mimosa (2016) take place in his adopted country of Morocco. This year Fire will comeHowever, the author and director is returning to his childhood – not to Paris, where he was born and raised, but to the mountainous enclaves of rural Galicia, an autonomous region in northwestern Spain. Born to Galician parents, Laxe spent formative summer vacations visiting relatives in the natural splendor of the Serra dos Ancares, parts of which intersect with the religious pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. Laxe draws from childhood memories and glorifies the breathtaking, eerie beauty of the region by lending its unmistakable iconography an enigmatic, out-of-time elegance.
The first Galician-language film to be premiered in Cannes Fire will come tells the story of Amador, a meek middle-aged man who was released into the world after serving a prison sentence for arson. Alone and penniless, he returns to his remote hometown in Galicia to live with his mother Benedicta with their three cows and their dog. Laxe uses lay people, whose characters correspond to the real names of the actors, and interweaves the daily routine of rural life – warming bread on a stove, hiking cows – with transcendent natural images of green mountain flora surrounded by dreamy, damp mist is.
But as the title warns, fire does indeed occur – a common occurrence in the region due to local agricultural practices. These fires reach the film's striking climax, a violent appearance that interrupts the smooth uneventfulness of the story. Cameraman Mauro Herce's cool green palette is replaced here with lush black-and-orange dancing flames that fill the screen as questions about Amador's guilt and intent arise in haunted ambiguity. If anything, Laxe encourages us to consider how desolation and beauty could exist along the same continuum.
At the Toronto International Film Festival 2019, the filmmaker spoke to Laxe after the North American premiere of Fire will come. The film will receive a virtual theatrical release from KimStim starting October 30th.
Filmmakers: Your films up to this point have all taken place in Morocco, where you have lived much of your life. You grew up in Paris, but your family is originally from Galicia. Fire Will Come seems to be a homecoming of sorts. What inspired you to return?
Lax: My parents were housekeepers in a wealthy neighborhood in Paris. Every summer we visited Galicia, but we could never enter the actual village because there is no road. I remember having to park our car for miles and take the luggage to a donkey to get in. So you can imagine the values that this place had at that time. It was the middle ages. There was this sense of humility that the city and the people had, an acceptance of life and nature that really touched me. I became a filmmaker in this valley. The world felt rich. You could touch and smell things here more than anywhere else. It was an essential feeling.
Filmmakers: Did you know then that you wanted to be a filmmaker?
Lax: When I was in Paris, I always wanted to escape from my parents' eyes. I was in my own world. I don't know, it's not that I wasn't social or bad. I felt like my parents loved me. But I enjoyed being with myself, digging into myself and experimenting with my thoughts, which may not be entirely healthy.
Filmmakers: It's something that artists struggle with getting too lost in themselves.
Lax:: We have too much inner world, so we don't necessarily experience life in a good way or have perfectly healthy social habits. But I've always painted and drawn since I was a kid. I've always liked pictures, so I was drawn to the idea of translating interior images in cinema.
Filmmakers: Was there a particular film or filmmaker that was a catalyst for you?
Lax: I was in school when I saw my first art house film. I don't even remember what it was, the nostalgia isn't that great. But that's when I had my first connection. I am the son of workers. I've watched television all my childhood, good and bad. I was very frustrated because my mom never solved my problems, she never had easy solutions to what I wanted to do.
Filmmakers: It is difficult to be an artist or to pursue a career in art as the child of immigrants and workers whose experiences have nothing to do with art. I experience that myself.
Lax: I remember when I was young I asked my mother to buy me books and she told me to make photocopies of the library. But I think this lack also in a certain way gives you the need to make and create. La Hambre (Hunger). All I've ever seen my parents do was work, and that's all I ever want to do. And that idea of working all the time has made me obsessed with cinema.
Filmmakers: I want to step back a little and talk about the dangers of having “too big an inner world,” as you said, and the feeling that you feel fundamentally alienated from others. It reminds me a lot of your characters: Shakib in Mimosas who is innocent, naive, and of course Amador here in Fire Will Come who is an outsider and innocent in his own way, but also criminal. What do you like about characters like that?
Lax: Innocent and fragile beauty attracts me. I remember when I was in high school my friends and I would protect the kids who were bullied or stood up for them. I've always been someone who cried a lot. When I was younger I cried all the time, it was embarrassing.
Filmmakers: So you were sensitive?
Lax: Not really. It's more of a fragility. The slightest problem didn't make me cry or feel sorry for myself. It just happened. I understood very soon when I was making my first film You are all captains: The Mismatching, or the inability to adapt to society, is something that goes deeper than racial, class, or gender differences. It is something spiritual, a real secret.
Filmmakers: What I love about your films is that they can be very avant-garde at times, but also accessible classic cinema with a narrative. Do you think about it as you develop your script?
Lax: I want to do that, this cross-section. Today cinema is too polarizing and I don't want to be on the edge of culture because people don't understand or relate to it. I don't want to be in a museum. The world is going down. I want to serve the people and the community and invite them to our trailer. We must be reminded that cinema is high culture, but it is also popular culture of the people. I want to get off my high horse and let the spectator in to help and understand the other, to build a bridge and ride together. Nowadays, viewers long to understand things better and save themselves by better understanding reality. As a filmmaker, I want to strike a balance between classicism and upper to make this possible.
Filmmakers; One of my favorite scenes in Fire Will Come is when Amador and the city vet drive through the valley and the Leonard Cohen song "Suzanne" comes up. The camera just sits with them for a moment and pans to the back of the truck where Amador's cow is hanging out. Then it just stays with her for a while and drifts out into the valley. Nothing is particularly concerned about what's happening here, but I was incredibly moved.
Lax: In some ways, I'm becoming more of an idiot. I only like animals, I like bread, I like music, I like my village. My attraction to these things is organic. Finding these moments, however, is a matter of balance or spiritual geometry between images and narrative. It is what happens when the portion of the pictures evokes something in you that is unrelated to the narrative. For example, it is a rhythm that you feel with architecture. Sometimes you look at a building and feel something, but you say it doesn't say anything specific to you.
Filmmakers: Can you talk more about working with different animals? There's Leonard Cohen's cow scene, of course, but some of the most poignant moments in the film feature animals – Amador's dog chasing him in front of the fire, the scorched wild horse.
Lax: We got the horse from an animal rescue service. It had been abused and malnourished. Obviously there are safety and ethical rules that we have to follow and we have been waiting for her to recover. When it was time to shoot, she was much healthier, but still very thin. We put her makeup on to create the look you see in the movie.
Filmmakers: I imagine it was difficult to work with a rescue horse.
Lax: We took risks. We work in an industry where we could easily get trained animals. Instead, we took the most difficult path. In my experience, the hardest path is always the best. I don't trust the easy way. We could have got a trained dog, but instead we used Amador's real dog, which was difficult because a trained dog goes where you want him to be, but a dog always hangs around, bothering each other and doing what he wants. Perhaps the greatest risk was casting Benedicta, an 85-year-old woman who had come on our casting call to be part of the film and was someone with no experience as an actor. It was unexpected, but I wanted to use this beautiful energy.
Filmmakers: How you filmed the actual fires is surely something I would consider going the difficult route.
Lax: Exactly, we've been around real forest fires. There is a risk, but we also had two or three weeks to film it. The technicians had to close their data, but you tell them, "We don't know when to shoot." We didn't know when the fire would come. Forest fires occur repeatedly in Galicia for various natural reasons. However, it is also intended that farmers use fire for regeneration purposes. But while we were there there were no fires! We had to wait for them to come, the film relied on them.
Filmmakers: In this case, the English title "Fire Will Come" must have felt more like a prayer than a source of fear.
Filmmakers: This idea of fire and nature as something innocent, but also guilty or potentially violent, also resonates with Amador, a pyromaniac.
Lax: You know, as I grow, I have fewer and fewer questions. Life is clear, beauty is clear. It's about accepting beautiful things in the world when they talk to you, even if they are flawed. I don't like participating in the kind of skepticism where you automatically don't trust another person that you can't make them look so beautiful if they don't follow certain rules.
Filmmakers: Do you find that this distrust is particularly true today, in our time? The decision to film in a location full of nature that you refer to as “in the Middle Ages” is relevant.
Lax: The acceptance of fragility is rare. Today we have to fight to be nobody. And you know, I make films for reasons that others do – for selfish reasons. But I also really want to destroy the author that I have in me. Being an author brings collateral damage. But I hope that the audience can sometimes connect beyond the ego in my work and find a form of expression through me.
Filmmakers: What's next for you
Lax: I'm making a psychedelic road movie, an adventure, but also a spiritual story about punks and raiders who are looking for a party in the desert in Morocco. I'm going to shoot in France and then finish in Mauritania. My references are pre-apocalyptic films like Crazy Max, but also Simple driver and stalker.
Filmmakers: This is like the opposite of Fire Will Come, which I find very calm for the most part, even when there are crazy fires going on.
Lax: Well, I am very calm in my own life now. I'm working on a five year farming project. I am going to restore my grandparents' house and restore chestnut forests. It is a kind of Alcoholic Anonymous for filmmakers and neurotic artists where we can learn to sit, breathe, walk, and smoke outside of any (objectively oriented) culture. A kind of school where the ego can die.