All The Fires


Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

All The Fires
"All The Fires is a film built out of contradictions from which meaning gradually emerges." | Photo: Cinema Tropical

It’s relatively easy to invoke nostalgia with a coming-of-age scene, no matter where it’s set or what it deals with. Some aspects of the experience are universal. That said, there’s a pleasing specificity about Mauricio Calderón Rico’s All The Fires which elevates it. It’s also a study of grief and the struggle to find space in which to determine one’s own identity when everybody else seems to see things more clearly.

The only clear point of focus for Bruno (Sebastian Rojano) is fire. His father, who has been dead for two years, used to collect matches, and he likes to light and hold them as they burn all the way down, totally absorbed by the flame. He has developed quite a fan following on YouTube by making videos of his pyromaniac exploits, though his mother has understandably run out of patience with him setting fire to things in the house. Now he goes out onto waste ground with his best friend Ian (Ari Lopez) to find bigger things to set alight.

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There is, from the start, a distinct chemistry between Bruno and Ian. When they’re just sitting talking, something about their body language makes them look like a couple rather than just friends. Ian is openly gay, planning on moving to California where he imagines that he will find it easier to be accepted than in the macho environment of Mexico City. Bruno doesn’t disapprove of this, but life has given him enough challenges, and it’s clear that he wants very much to be straight. When the pressure gets too much for him at home, watching his mother (Ximena Ayala) with her new boyfriend Gerardo (Hector Illanes), he takes off across the country to meet his online girlfriend Daniela (Natalia Quiroz) and try to reinvent himself.

Screened at Newfest 2023, this sensitively wrought tale unfolds in a deceptively organic way, going exactly where Rico needs it to but never feeling forced. No time is wasted on the frankly trite takes on coming out which inform most LGBTQ+ themed teen films, and other clichés are likewise cast aside. There is very little direct expression of homophobia and the film’s big confession does not take place in the context that you would expect. Indeed, in many ways Bruno’s uncertainty about his sexuality takes a back seat to the other big issue in his life: coming to terms with the loss of his father and learning to move on. Meanwhile, other characters are going through struggles of their own, and his eventual recognition of this is essential to him learning to change the way he lives.

Along the way, fire, which Daniela also finds herself drawn to, is a source of thrills and danger, a means of expressing anger or simply of throwing caution to the wind in order to feel free. There are stunts in this film which you should definitely not try at home, but they’re things which a lot of bored kids do try. Rico understands that mindset very well. Rojano’s perfectly nuanced, natural performance conveys a character who is as yet untamed but, perhaps, wants to be, or is at any rate trying to find a way into a calmer and more structured existence. In this case, that isn’t something which is at odds with being queer, but it does require self-acceptance and the will to build bridges instead of just burning them.

There’s a lot of love and support available to Bruno; it’s just difficult, sometimes, for him to accept it. All The Fires is a film built out of contradictions from which meaning gradually emerges. It’s a difficult way to structure a story but entirely in keeping with the subject matter, and Rico makes it work.

Reviewed on: 17 Oct 2023
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Conflicted by his mother's new relationship and his best friend's crush on him, Bruno, a pyromaniac teenager, escapes from the city. He sets off on a journey in search of a girl he met online who will push him to confront his father's death and the doubts about his sexuality, but not before leaving all his fires behind.

Director: Mauricio Calderón Rico

Writer: Mauricio Calderón Rico

Starring: Ximena Ayala, Antonio Fortier, Iliana Donatlán, Natalia Quiroz, Hector Illanes, Sebastian Rojano, Ari Lopez, Hannah Romen

Year: 2023

Runtime: 96 minutes

Country: Mexico

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