Review: Through the Fire
by Fabien Lemercier
- Pierre Niney shines in a poignant role as a firefighter and severe burns victim who tries to rebuild himself in Frédéric Tellier's second feature film
An in-depth immersion into a super-dramatic event told from the well-documented angle of those struggling for the common good. Indeed, this was also Frédéric Tellier's approach with his first film, SK1 [+see also:
film profile] (nominated for a César Award in 2016 for Best First Film and Best Adaptation, but also the winner of a Lumières Award for Best Photography) which showed police investigators trying to track down a serial killer. With his second film, Through the Fire [+see also:
film profile], released on Wednesday, 28 November by Mars Films in French cinemas, the filmmaker delivers an even more intense variation on the theme, this time opting to focus on the saintly daily lives of (military) firefighters in Paris, and the cruel destiny of one firefighter in particular, who is severely burnt and confronted with a loss of identity so physically and psychologically violence that his social and emotional future prospects seem drowned in almost insurmountable darkness.
The fate of a lone man – devoted and happy, who is knocked over in one fell swoop, only to find himself on the ground, totally broken and struggling to find a way to reconnect with the humanity he's lost and with his crew – offers Pierre Niney (César Award in 2015 for Best Actor for Yves Saint Laurent [+see also:
interview: Jalil Lespert
film profile] and nominated in 2017 for Frantz [+see also:
Q&A: François Ozon
film profile]) the perfect opportunity to deploy his talent in a melodramatic performance that’s somewhere along the lines of a "heroic-desperate" role, typical of certain American films.
The young sergeant Franck Pasquier rigorously and enthusiastically does his job as a firefighter, a true vocation into which he injects a real capacity for empathy and a very solid sense of team solidarity, a value well anchored in his daily life on the barracks, where he lives with Cécile (Anaïs Demoustier), his pregnant partner. From cardiac massages to reports of destressed rough sleepers, from car accidents to subway suicides, the young man goes through the thick of it, rescues and defeats in the face of death, but a certain spirit keeps the team united (chants to remember firefighters "lost to fire" and the Marseillaise sung every morning in the yard, intensive physical training, states of emergency...). Ambitious, Franck passes the very selective examination to be a fire relief operation commander. But during a blaze at a warehouse, he is very badly burned, especially his face. How will he heal and mentally recover from the trauma, assume a new appearance, go back to live with his relatives, or perhaps not, love again, love himself and be loved, and even reintegrate into society? These existential questions represent numerous stages of a very difficult journey, in which a beckoning emptiness leaves little room for hope. A journey to the very core of what it means to be human, which the filmmaker (who co-wrote the screenplay with David Oelhoffen) describes so meticulously that some people may find it a tad too melodramatic, but whose moving bleakness won't leave anyone feeling indifferent.
(Translated from French)
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