By Mónica Delgado

O que arde revisits a thematic concern that appears in a big part of the so called “new Galician cinema”: resistance to the distortion of natural or rural life, the fear of losing rites and traditions, and the visions from characters who inhabit these liminal spaces confronted with the modernity of the city and its threat. In this first presentation of Galician cinema in Un Certain Regard (Laxe has already been in Cannes twice with Mimosas and Todos vós sodes capitáns), what was first shown –with a metaphoric intro is precisely the concretion of this disquisition: a centenary tree which refuses to be chopped down.

A pyromaniac leaves jail, back to home in Vilela, in the Ancares of Lugo, which becomes a permanent threat for it all. The pyromaniac is loose, silently moving through the village, his movements turn him into a permanent threat. However, Laxe seems more concerned in describing the relationship with his mother, an old woman living along, raising the livestock and harvesting. This woman will become a figure of resistance as well, like the tree in the beginning and the possibility of fire.

This third film by Oliver Laxe has a different narrative from his previous works, that is to say, it is more “lineal”, and from the beginning it becomes clear that these characters of the mother and the son are connected with the idea of preserving life in the field against the possible arrival of tourists, since a neighbor tries to open a new business there. This is why; Laxe is more interested in elaborating a thesis about the dichotomy field/modernity out of field, before offering a tale with a close ending. This happens with the design of the characters, since the filmmaker doesn’t seem to go into deeper waters with them. The defense of an order is the primal idea, and the controlled fire is what will resignify this return to the normality of rural life.

The cinematography by Mauro Herce, specially in the scenes of the fire or the woods under the rainy climate is primordial, and amazing. It gives the scenario a melancholic beauty. And unlike other Galician films (because it is inevitable to include this film in a list together with Arraianos or even Trinta Lumes), Laxe places some elements to distract the attention of the audience, like a poppier use of the soundtrack (songs like Suzanne by Leonard Cohen appear, for example) which isn’t a defect but will unveil the first thing that could be dispensed with, an intention to hook an spectator willing to surrender itself to this story of fear opting to choose a one of a defense of the traditional life in an easier way.

Un Certain Regard
Director: Oliver Laxe
Script: Santiago Fillol, Oliver Laxe
Cinematography: Mauro Herce
Cast: Amador Arias,  Benedicta Sánchez
Production Company: 4A4 Productions / Miramemira / Tarantula
Spain, France, Luxembourg, 89 mins, 2019