The Blaze (En Plein Feu) is currently awaiting a release date.
Over the long deadly summer of 2022, France would record the largest number of wildfires in its history, with over 62,000 hectares burnt to the ground as around 10,000 residents fleed their homes. With The Blaze (En Plein Feu), director Quentin Reynaud puts us at the heart of the raging fire in a claustrophobic disaster drama that largely avoids lazy Hollywood cliches.
The summer of 2022 would see Europe reach record-breaking temperatures. These temperatures were not just deadly, causing forest fires and drought; they marked a clear sign that our climate was dramatically shifting. Even as I write this, the temperature here in the United Kingdom is far above where it should be in early November. As world leaders arrive at another COP conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, many will be asking whether this will be yet another COP-out as the world’s leading economies once again push the issue of climate change into the long grass. If politicians fail to provide clear direction, we are once again left asking what can be done to create action.
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For some, this involves protest and physical activity, blocking oil refineries and throwing soup on valuable paintings. But for others, film and media hold the key to action. In recent years, the rise of the eco-thriller and eco-disaster has seen directors flex their muscles in bringing the message home to audiences. In addition, environmental documentaries have attempted to quell disinformation by providing audiences with the facts. The Blaze is a bold attempt to place us right in the middle of the forest fires that engulfed Europe, not through extensive CGI and action but through a far more realistic slow-burn terror.
Simon (Alex Lutz) is estranged from his ex-wife and his teenage son following an event that is never fully explained. Simon’s complex relationship with his own son echoes his uneasy relationship with his father, Joseph (André Dussollier), who now lives with him. As radio stations signal the urgent evacuation of the small forest town they call home, Simon and his father are confident they can escape the fire growing around them, consuming everything in its path. But as they escape the town in their pickup truck, the wildfire grows in intensity and threatens the road leading to the beach where Simon’s son and ex-wife await their arrival. As the flames lick at their tires and smoke pours into the cab, they are forced to find any way out possible as the inferno threatens their survival.
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Reynaud is not interested in a vast set-piece disaster. Instead, he focuses on a father and son who have never fully expressed their love for one another as they slowly realise their escape route is blocked. The tension held within these car-bound scenes is outstanding as the rumble of the fire and the glow of the flames slowly encroach on the vehicle, with wild animals suddenly hitting the pickup with a thud as they attempt to escape their fate. Both Simon and Joseph know the forest and are familiar with the roads and paths, but this is a new world of smoke, flames and smouldering woodland that neither man can navigate safely. Their choice is simple, do they run, stay and wait for help or attempt to drive on?
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In what is essentially a two-person play, Reynaud is dependent on his leads to carry the picture, and neither Lutz nor Dussollier disappoint. There is a realism to their father-and-son relationship that evades nearly all Hollywood disaster flicks as they finally find each other through the smoke. However, Reynaud’s exploration of Simon’s past family life is far less clear, with the flashbacks of his once-happy home never allowing us to build a complete picture of what went wrong. These flashbacks break the tension and the building heat of an otherwise engaging eco-thriller. Therefore, despite Lutz’s and Dussollier’s stunning performances, The Blaze (En Plein Feu) tends to lose its way as Reynaud attempts to pull all the strings together in the final twenty minutes.
However, the eco messages held within Reynaud’s film are strong as The Blaze reminds us that our safety and security are changing and our place on this spinning blue globe is now open to question as the planet warms. The Blaze asks us to reflect on this new humanmade world through the smoke, flames and evaporating security of a burning France, in the hope we might wake up before it’s too late.
Reminding us that our safety and security are changing, and our place on this spinning blue globe is now open to question as the planet warms, The Blaze asks us to reflect on this new humanmade world through the smoke, flames and evaporating security of a burning France, in the hope we might wake up before it’s too late.