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Blazing start to 2023 Europa! Europa film festival

by Bernard O'Shea

If ever there was a film to make you think about what you need to do to survive a raging bushfire, En Plein Feu (The Blaze) is it. This terrific French movie, chosen to open the 2023 Europa! Europa film festival in Sydney and Melbourne, immediately plunges you into what feels uncomfortably like the horrific bushfires of 2019-2020 in Australia. It’s bite your nails, grip your seats kind of stuff.

En Plein Feu director Quentin Reynaud lives in the south of France, which has had its share of fire disasters recently, in mid-2020 and in the summer of 2022.  “The Blaze is about a father and a son trying to escape a huge wild fire in the south of France,” Reynaud told the Australian audience in a pre-filmed address for Europa! Europa’s opening night. “I was actually writing the script during the very fires you had to face at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020. I remember very well the red landscapes, the red pictures, and it inspired me a lot in the way I wanted to direct my movie.”

Too blasé about the blaze

The father (played by André Dussollier) and son (Alex Lutz – both splendid actors) are woken up one morning in their semi-rural village by an evacuation order. It’s not the first – the other ones have been false alarms, fortunately – and they expect this is another one too. They are slow to leave and carry only one bottle of water between them, which they guzzle as they drive nonchalantly away. As the signs begin to look more ominous – clouds of smoke grow larger,  draw nearer – you know they’ll soon regret not leaving earlier, bringing more water or being more prepared.

They join a convoy leaving the area, but the escape routes are soon cut off, the cars have nowhere to go, neither forward or back, they’re trapped like sitting ducks. The escalating tension and danger is conveyed superbly by the visuals and the rising panic overheard on the emergency radio channels. Soon even the train fire crews can be heard fleeing for their lives.

Stampede out of the forest

The fires scenes in The Blaze are incredible. Reynaud and his crew used a mix of computer-generated imagery and real trees set alight in a film studio compound. Flames combine with thick, whirling smoke, thunderous gusts of intense heat, grisly ash dropping from the heavens, and the thumps, cries and screeches of forest fauna fleeing in panic. Where the Europa! Europa festival program says “The Blaze is set to become one of the hottest films of 2023”, it means it in more ways than one.

“I wanted a movie about fire; I wanted a movie about grief; and I wanted a movie about rebirth,” Reynaud told the opening night audience. He delivers it with aplomb.

To see what other French films are screening at the festival, go to the festival website and tick the ‘France’ box.

Feu idioms in French

En is “in” in French, plein (pleine in the feminine form) means “full“, and “feu” when used as a noun can mean fire, light or traffic light. For example, les feux de la ville means the lights of the city.  En feu means on fire, and au feu! is what you yell to alert people that there’s a fire! Plein feu means the spotlight or limelight.

As an adjective, feu means a ruddy or flaming red colour. M5R

Photo courtesy of the Europa! Europa film festival.

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