Afire - Burning Dispassion

Afire was most definitely the most awaited Berlinale release, and is a film that most definitely ignited the lineup of the festival. Noone but Petzold could make Bach and a Wallners song blend so seemlessly well.

Petzold's name is intrinsically connected to his films in historic settings, like Transit or Barbara, yet Afire is his second film in a row in a contemporary setting. Its german title, which would translate to "red skies" is more evocative of the concept of an imminent disaster that encompasses the film's premise: two friends leave to a vacation house on the northen coast, but there start to be rumors about a nearby wildfire. Knowing the premise of the film will suggest to the viewer that what is to be seen is a tense, thrilling work, but Afire purposely is not that. 

The best way to describe it would be as a character study, in a way, a sort of modernised romanticist novel that centers on an inept protagonist. Afire is truly a great example of how to perfectly write an unlikable or frustrating protagonist: at a public screening of the Berlinale the audience expressed loudly its disappointment in seeing Leon, a troubled writer, continuously making the wrong moves with Nadja, even at the most obvious social cues. If most films built a protagonist to empathise with the audience through their positive traits, Leon is an arrogant, pretentious and judgemental character, an inept, yet he is most definitely lively and realistic, but not for that reason less relatable, which is the very strength of the character. Relatability will increase the unlikability, as the viewer might find feel exposed by seeing their negative traits on the screen in such a character. Perhaps due to the perspective of the narration being always close to Leon rather than the others, this also influences on the depth of the supporting roles. Felix and Devid seem to be the most underdeveloped in that sense, and their presence could be maliciously described as an emotional trap.

Afire is a metafictional work, albeit not in a particularly innovative way. The main concern is with the adaptation of real events, its influence, how inspiration from reality can give birth to a better work than an entirely invented inner inspiration. The main feature of the film is that it somehow feels very novelistic, it could easily work as well as a literary work rather than a cinematic - which is not to say that it is flawed as a piece of cinema in that sense. This is fitting to the profession of the protagonist - as well as to the conclusion of the film.

Afire could msot definitely work as an introduction to those unfamiliar with Petzold, and although it is not an entirely unique or revolutionary film, it is a solid piece of cinema.


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