For those Australians looking to turn the heat up one more time as our summer comes to a close, you'd be hard-pressed to find a film as suffocating as 'The Blaze' ('En plein feu') – but don't expect anything except its visuals to stay with you once it's over. Equal parts eco-thriller and father-son drama, 'The Blaze' is a regrettably forgettable experience that doesn't quite know when it's burnt out all of its ideas.
Simon (Alex Lutz, 'Vortex') and his elderly father Joseph (André Dussollier, 'Everything Went Fine') are living squarely in the middle of a fire danger zone – and they're the last civilians in the neighbourhood willing to leave their home. What initially begins as scepticism from the two men - despite TV news and radio broadcasting non-stop evacuation warnings and instructions - soon turns into terror as they realise they've left their evacuation too late, and the wildfires are much closer to them than they thought. Their sole source of hope are the backroads through the evacuation route that Joseph is familiar with, which will take them to the refuge of Simon's old house by the beach – and to his estranged 16-year-old son.
'THE BLAZE' CLIP
Director Quentin Reynaud ('Final Set') has spoken of writing the film's script in the wake of the 2019-2020 Australian bushfires, which claimed the lives of hundreds, and even more lives of native wildlife. The release of the film also coincides with France's convalescence from the 2022 fires which destroyed 65,000 hectares of land. These two events alone steer us toward an unpleasant truth; as global warming continues to worsen, the prospect of one day needing to abandon our homes in search of safety unfortunately becomes far more likely. 'The Blaze' doesn't feel the need to turn this notion into blockbuster fare, and instead plays things considerably low-key for a film that spends most of its runtime bringing Simon and Joseph face-to-face with death.
Despite only a handful of actors appearing in the film (and even less with speaking roles), 'The Blaze' manages to capture the mass panic of natural disasters thanks to sound editors and mixers François Aubinet ('No Limit') and Fabien Devillers ('Wolfwalkers'). By layering Simon and Joseph's conversations across a sea of frantic radio alerts and car honking, the audience is feeling claustrophobic before the fire even makes its grand entrance. The film's true MVP, however, is cinematographer Vincent Mathias ('Final Set'); without him, 'The Blaze' would crumble entirely. When he isn't playing shadow master with silhouettes struggling across a smoke-laden landscape, he's locked squarely on Simon and Joseph's faces. This adds to both the suffocating feeling of hiding under a flannel blanket as their car's temperate soars, and also allows us access into the intricacies and pain of their strained relationship – which is where, unfortunately, 'The Blaze' stumbles the most.
Despite its best efforts to push past its basic premise, 'The Blaze' just doesn't have enough structural integrity behind its script.
Despite its best efforts to push past its basic premise, 'The Blaze' just doesn't have enough structural integrity behind its script. Even at a brief 85 minutes, 'The Blaze' is way too long – in fact, it really should only exist as a 45 minute short film. One of the film's go-to strategies to combat this is to flesh out Simon's remorse around his relationship with his son through the use of flashbacks and dream sequences, but since the film essentially occurs in real time, these scenes end up killing the film's taught pace. The flashbacks are also quite dramatic, and immensely out-of-sorts with the tone of the rest of the film, which feels far more grounded in its horrific realism. Finally, the lucky breaks Simon and Joseph find in their quest for safety border on the laughably predictable and implausible. It's not uncommon for scripts to lend their leads a far-fetched helping hand, but this once again makes 'The Blaze' feel sillier than it should be.
Much like its protagonists, 'The Blaze' seeks to warn us about the dangers of complacency around our ever-changing climate, but in fumbling ways to explore its sentimental edge, it struggles to drive home its messages. Sometimes, it's better to burn out bright and fast as a short film than to fade away in a feature-length mess.