Tuesday, May 21, 2024

“AFIRE”

THE STORY – Emotions run high for a group of friends in a holiday home by the Baltic Sea as the parched forest around them catches fire.

THE CAST – Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel & Enno Trebs

THE TEAM – Christian Petzold (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 103 Minutes


The portrait of an artist is often one that is frequently captured but difficult to condense into a single identity. That is, of course, what makes their particular plights so inherently fascinating. It’s a minefield that can just as easily destroy as it can invigorate, speaking to the powerful drives that bring one closer to fulfillment. Depending on the subject themselves, it can be hazardous terrain to explore, but often a rewarding journey. “Afire” sets its sights firmly on this complicated and arduous process of finding the authentic voice that can lead to inspiring work. It’s an imperfect sequence, but one that still ends up quite fascinating.

The focus begins on a pair of friends traveling to a small village by the Baltic Sea. Leon (Thomas Schubert) is an author struggling with the completion of his next novel, while Felix (Langston Uibel) is a photographer who is working on compiling a portfolio to be submitted to art school. They are staying in a home owned by Felix’s mother but are surprised to find another house guest who has also chosen to rent the property. Nadja (Paula Beer) has made herself at home and constantly indulges the two with her more forceful free spirit. Felix welcomes this notion, spending time with her and her lover Devid (Enno Trebs). Leon is much more resistant, constantly excusing himself from participating in the group’s activities. Yet, he finds an attraction in this dynamic, and he slowly forges a stronger connection while being guarded about his emotions. The longer they interact, the more Leon must combat the weight of his own anxieties.

Christian Petzold gently eases one into this environment littered with prickly personas and becoming auras. It’s a contradiction that takes some time to acclimate to, but that is essentially what makes this nuanced analysis all the richer. The serene setting clashes with the inner turmoil that plagues Leon, the film’s protagonist. His excuses to avoid the frivolity always revert back to returning to “work,” a work that seemingly only fuels his insecurities and self-doubt. Yet, that process also shuts him out from the pleasures that life can offer. It is not until a full understanding of that is revealed can artistry truly flourish. Petzold brings forth this notion by dissecting this isolated company in their small interactions. One person is seen telling an elongated joke, a moment of simplicity that showcases the power inherent in storytelling when not obsessed with minutia. It’s a concept the characters struggle with, but there is beauty that is found within the layers.

For all the yearning on display in this piece, the narrative can occasionally feel a bit too listless in its development. The intimacy works well to create an inviting atmosphere, but it can also leave the pacing to strain in keeping the forward momentum. So much of this story concerns the frustrating emotions of stagnant creativity. The concept is fascinating, but the execution does not always justify the mirroring state of mind in its tempo. All this still does manage to play neatly into the overall tone until the third act ramps up the stakes dramatically. This small corner of the world is being threatened by a looming forest fire, a strong metaphor for the burning neurosis that Leon continually manifests until it can’t be ignored. The dangers of this external threat become very real toward the finale, but such a sudden escalation of stakes never quite fits within the more grounded framework. The ending has a shocking turn of events that feel slightly incongruous, robbing one of what could have been a more emotionally resonant resolution. The mechanics of this story are engaging but inconsistent.

Schubert effectively renders a portrayal full of angst and desire in a method that can be intentionally off-putting. However, it is meaningful to show the true depth of this character, a man with not so much a bruised ego but harboring a raging monster of self-doubt. The effort to draw him out of this hardened exterior is both brass and tender, ultimately realized in his stoic performance. There’s a nice chemistry shared with Uibel, who may be as commanding but still offers a warm and captivating screen presence. Both are able to embody a tense yet intriguing friendship that is amicable on the surface but deeply flawed beneath. Beer is a great counter to the stress, an alluring figure who enters as a complete enigma before revealing her own set of complex emotions. One yearns for a whole endeavor purely from her perspective, and it is wholly due to her engrossing turn. Trebs is a solid member to round out this ensemble but, admittedly, does not make much impact. There is a greater impression from Matthias Brandt as Leon’s agent, whose visit comes with a sense of unease but enlightened discovery as well.

“Afire” may seem like another familiar tale that analyzes the complex viewpoints that juggle within an artist’s mind. Still, it has a more distinct statement at its core that is wholly absorbing. Skepticism in one’s abilities always runs rampant, but here is an exploration that seeks to find how such anxiety balances with the thirst for novel experiences and authentic human connection. The balance may not be consistently compelling, but the performances and strong directorial hand keep one invested. The small scale has a profound internal commentary, with an endearing appreciation for all the good and bad that make up the quest for such talent.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Christian Petzold crafts an engaging portrait that comments on the insecurities of an artist in a compelling manner. The atmosphere is inviting yet layered with profound analysis. The performances are all captivating and alluring.

THE BAD - At times, the pacing can feel particularly dull, and momentum can stall. The finale ramps up the stakes in a dramatic fashion that is incongruous with the previously established tone.

THE OSCARS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 7/10

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Josh Parham
Josh Parhamhttps://nextbestpicture.com
I love movies so much I evidently hate them. Wants to run a production company.

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Latest Reviews

<b>THE GOOD - </b>Christian Petzold crafts an engaging portrait that comments on the insecurities of an artist in a compelling manner. The atmosphere is inviting yet layered with profound analysis. The performances are all captivating and alluring.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>At times, the pacing can feel particularly dull, and momentum can stall. The finale ramps up the stakes in a dramatic fashion that is incongruous with the previously established tone.<br><br> <b>THE OSCARS - </b>None <br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>7/10<br><br>"AFIRE"