In Fire Will Come (2019). Amador, a convicted arsonist returns to his remote village to look after his ageing mother, Benedicta, braving the suspicion of his former neighbours. Both leading roles, and most of the other parts, are played by non-professional actors. Amador (Amador Arias) was (and probably still is) a forester, and this is a film about the dark, damp, forests of mountainous Galicia, in northern Spain. The cinematography, setting and mood are overwhelming and, it could be argued, overpower the storytelling. I don’t really agree. We watch the images, listen to the sparse music, and fill the gaps. The film is only 82 minutes long: have patience.

Amador’s past, and the reason for his crime, are obscure. His interactions with is mother (Benedicta Sánchez) are caring but terse. The dialogue is rationed. For the most part, we see Amador existing in the landscape, interacting with his mother’s animals, hacking away at vegetation, digging the soil, scratching a living. At one point there is a tentative interaction with Elena, a local vet (Elena Mar Fernández). She plays Leonard Cohen’s haunting ‘Suzanne’ in her pickup truck after they have pulled a cow out of ditch. He tells her he doesn’t understand the words; she says music doesn’t work like that. It’s a moment, almost, of tenderness: but the prospective relationship doesn’t progress. She is warned off him by the locals.

Arias is a powerful, brooding presence, his physiognomy as gnarled and uncommunicative as the trees among which he lives. The Galician title of the film is O Que Arde, which I would translate as ‘That Which Burns’, and an unexpressed anger certainly lives inside him. He hates especially the non-native eucalyptus trees, ‘from Australia or a laboratory’, that now mark the landscape, describing them as a plague. When a new forest fire breaks out (its reds and golds a startling contrast to the film’s predominant green), he comes under suspicion, and his uneasy, isolated peace is threatened.

Galicia is a remarkable place: extreme topography, dense vegetation, beautiful rias and beaches, wild weather, reserved and inward people. The autonomous province has insisted on its own nationhood since the Middle Ages, something that brought it the harsh attentions of General Franco, himself an Galician, who insisted in uniformity under the Castilian crown. He banned Galician in formal contexts, forbidding even the registration of births with Galician names. Oliver Late made this film in Galician, which owes a lot to Portuguese. Is Galician a language? Yes and no. ‘A language is a dialect with an army and navy’, as the Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich put it in 1945. Galicia no longer has either of those, but, like Amador, it has its fierce pride.

Fire Will Come is on Thursday (25/11) at 02:50 on Channel 4.  

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