AFIRE is a vacation comedy and an apocalyptic film, a simultaneously compassionate and wonderfully wicked reflection on making art and a sophisticated mixture of the tangible and the metaphoric. It won the Silver Bear at this year‘s Berlinale.
No one films the clear, gray light that is typical for Berlin and its surroundings as well as Christian Petzold and his cameraman Hans Fromm. It‘s a matter-of-fact light, an understated light, which suitably lights up everything and doesn‘t allow for any evasions, but doesn‘t create any drama either. This makes it a very gentle light in a brittle way.
This time it is shining on Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Leon (Thomas Schubert) and Felix (Langston Uibel) are en route there from Berlin. They want to go to Felix‘ parents vacation home close to the Baltic Sea: Leon wants to write his manuscript and Felix wants to compile a portfolio for the UdK there. A few kilometers from their destination, the car breaks down in the pine forest, and they have to walk during the last stretch. When they finally arrive, huffing and puffing with their heavy luggage, the house is already occupied: Felix‘ mother has made it available to her friend Nadja (Paula Beer). They have to share it, whether they like it or not. Leon is not amused. Instead of finding peace and contemplation, he has to share a room with Felix or sleep in the pergola on the mosquito infested edge of the forest. His crankiness doesn‘t go away in the coming days. Leon calls Nadja “the Russian,“ refuses help out in the house, and when another person appears at dinner in the form of Nadja‘s lover, the lifeguard Devid (Enno Terbs), Leon attracts attention with his gruff, disparaging questions. The fact that the ultra-relaxed Felix imemdiately befriends the “new guy“ makes him even more aggressive.
Leon is a wonderful, not very sympathetic, but very realistic protagonist and a funny alter ego. Of course he falls for Nadja/Paula Beer, who plays Petzold‘s confident-mysterious dream woman again. He also reveals the reason for his pent-up anger to her: his publisher is coming to visit him and he doesn‘t like his new book. When the publisher (Matthias Brandt) arrives, he gets on well with Felix and Nadja, and he politely and intentionally destroys his book – which you can partially hear and does indeed sound terrible. Petzold stages the “big Leon drama“ in such a convincing, entertaining, and commonplace way, that for a long time you aren‘t consciously aware of the genre elements that pervade AFIRE. Sure, the dry forest is burning in the distance, and the fire-fighting helicopers keep rumbling over the idyll with their deafening noise, but that‘s often the case these days in the summer in Brandenburg and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. When screech owls call out in the forest, they are the daily night sounds that you hear in the forest. The horror and catastrophe film that AFIRE also is, slowly creeps up until it‘s too late.
It isn‘t just Leon who is too self-involved to perceive the environment (and produce good literature), his friends and ultimately all of us are as well, essentially. AFIRE is a vacation comedy and an apocalyptic film, both a compassionate and wonderfully wicked reflection on making art and a sophisticated mixture of the tangible and the metaphoric. It won the Silver Bear at this year‘s Berlinale.
Translation: Elinor Lewy
Original title: Roter Himmel – Afire
Deutschland 2023, 103 min
Genre: Drama, Love Stories
Director: Christian Petzold
Author: Christian Petzold
DOP: Hans Fromm
Distributor: Piffl Medien
Cast: Paula Beer, Thomas Schubert, Matthias Brandt, Enno Trebs, Langston Uibel
- OV Original version
- OmU Original with German subtitles
- OmeU Original with English subtitles
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