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Afire 12A

Christian Petzold, Germany, 2023, 102m.

Christian Petzold’s latest film, which played in competition at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, unfolds like a modern-day fable, imbued with a sense of transcendent wonder not unfamiliar from his previous work.  

Leon (Thomas Schubert), a self-important author, joins his friend Felix (Langston Uibel) on a trip to his holiday house by the Baltic Sea. This is Leon’s chance to clear his head and finish his next novel in peace; but, much to his surprise, the house is already occupied when they arrive. The beautiful, free-spirited Nadja (Paula Beer) is staying there for the summer and becomes an unwanted distraction for Leon, who takes his work (and himself) very seriously. Felix and Nadja soon become friends and find themselves sharing more than just a fun-loving zest for life. While they enjoy a carefree summer, Leon becomes increasingly disconcerted by, and secretly jealous of, their frivolity. Meanwhile, as their lusts, tensions and dramas play out, forest wildfires rage around them and impending disaster looms.  

A humorous commentary on artists and relationships that intelligently and poetically probes at the crisis of storytelling in the face of the climate crisis, Afire asks how we might narrate and find meaning in our lives against a backdrop of existential peril.

The Garden Cinema View:

An instant entry to the pantheon of unbearably tense and anxiety ridden middle-class-holiday-nightmare films (think Joanna Hogg’s Archipelago, Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, or Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash), Christian Petzold’s latest provides creeping discomfort and pitch-black humour. Peeling back layer upon layer of imposter syndrome, social paranoia, perceived/imagined bullying, repressed desire, and intellectual jealousy, only the steeliest of viewers will avoid pangs of humiliation as they watch narcissistic author Leon blunder his way through his idyllic writing retreat/holiday. As a genuine (and broadly ignored) lethal threat approaches, Afire switches to an slightly unconvincing climax. But this remains a scalding late summer treat.

Thomas Schubert, Paula Beer, Langston Uibel, Enno Trebs, Matthias Brandt

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