It may be called ‘the men of fire’ but this French drama centres on a female firefighter. After a promotion, Bénédicte Meursault (Émilie Dequenne) is assigned to lead an all-male group of pompiers in southern France. Refreshingly, she is generally accepted and her leadership is unquestioned by all but one man, so this isn’t the battle of the sexes story you might expect. There is, however, a baptism of fire when a potentially fatal error occurs on her first job.
As with the sexist subplot and a suspected arson storyline, the resulting legal action murmurs on in the background while writer-director Pierre Jolivet focuses on his main interest: the day-to-day job of a firefighter. As such, it’s interesting, occasionally moving viewing with an authentic feel. Instead of running into blazing houses to rescue screaming kids, these guys are more often called to the scenes of car accidents, domestic disturbances and suicides.
Procedure is key but instinct, luck and human error play a large part. While praising the confidence and commitment of the emergency services, it also looks at what can go wrong, giving this the unsettling feel of a TV hospital drama. There’s a strong small-screen flavour overall, especially when partners and babies get involved. But it’s done with more restraint than the recent melodramatic Hollywood equivalent, ‘Only the Brave’. And having a female chief is the master, sorry, mistress stroke that makes this stand out from the pack.