Winner of the Silver Bear grand jury prize at this year’s Berlin film festival, Afire, or Roter Himmel as it’s called in the original German, is a surprisingly funny, sentimental but not particularly sweet film. It’s quiet, a little tragic, and entirely picturesque, following writer Leon (Thomas Schubert) and his friend on a summer artistic retreat to the German north coast.
On this retreat, his photographer friend Felix (Langston Uibel) veers away from his artistry and into a summer of love. Leon, on the other hand, is a stereotypical sullen writer who pines after fellow housemate, Nadja (Paula Beer), without ever acting on it; favouring toddler-style tantrums over any flirtatious techniques.
All the while, a fire is blazing through the forestry around them. Well, not quite around them. The woodland beyond their town is burning, the sky occasionally glowing red. As the film progresses, so does the threat to their lives. Although it largely goes undiscussed, as do most of the film’s events.
The only thing spoken about, really, is visiting the beach and Leon’s strife whilst writing his second manuscript. Leon takes narcissism and delusionary ideas to new heights, never querying about the people he meets and never caring to befriend them.
His self-centrism is astounding, so much so it’s a little detrimental to the film. The film is visually beautiful. However, it comes across as plot-driven – yet, there is no plot other than brooding Leon complaining in between his silences. Trying to be artistic yet forgetting to be artistic describes both Leon and Afire.
The final arc of the film, where it finally gets moving narratively, allows for the prior moments of emptiness to make sense.
Leon is completely blinded to everything around him, hence why the film feels empty. He didn’t see it so we, the audience, don’t either. For him, everything is happening at the end. However, narratively this makes the film feel a little crammed and uneven.
Luckily, the film was picturesque and the performance by the entire cast was enough to command attention to the end.
Afire is an interesting and enjoyable film. The concept for the film was flawless, however, it was the execution that let it down. However, that doesn’t eliminate any fun that can be had when watching it. The jokes are hilariously dry, the dynamic between characters is fragile and corrosive, and the ending raises a lot of questions about morality and relationships. For those reasons, it is worth seeing.
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Featured image credit: Schramm Film Kroener