Wednesday, July 12, 2023

AFIRE (2023) opens Friday

Friends Leon and Felix go to a house by the sea owner by Felix's family. Leon is going to work on his novel, Felix is going to work on an upcoming exhibition of his work. Things become complicated when they discover that Nadja and David already there. Things become further complicated as out of control wildfires threaten the house.

A winner at this year's Berlin Film Festival, the film was also the subject of a great deal of discussion at this past Tribeca Film Festival where everyone was asking each other if they had seen the film yet. The talk was such that I was excited but because of scheduling I couldn't make any of the Tribeca screenings and had to wait for the run up to the theatrical release.

I'm going to be completely upfront and say that I know that all of the talk in the weeks running up to my seeing the film effected how I feel. I do like the film but I know my expectations for the film did not match up with the film I saw so my reaction is probably some what tempered by all of the talk as a result. I say this because there was so much hype at Tribeca I was expecting something different.

Regardless of my liking the film instead of loving it there are two things that would have been an issue  even if I had seen the film with no build up.

The first problem with the film is the main character of Leon. A self-absorbed writer who is unaware of anything outside of his own wants and desires, he is a hard man to like. While there are hints of something behind the narcissism, I mean he has friends, he is still the sort of guy you wonder why anyone would want to spend time with since his two main traits are complaining and chain smoking. His ticks are hard to accept, especially when we are supposed to like the guy, but instead of liking we kind of just feel sorry for him. It also feeds into the other problem with the film, the plotting.

The other problem is a director's Christian Petzold's plotting which is much too deliberate. Watching as the the extremely well drawn characters go through their paces  you can feel the how Petzold is moving them around. You can feel them being used as a novelist would use his characters to get his points across. While it can partly be explained by a bit at the finale, it still makes it a tough slog as things don't feel real with beats such as Leon being forced to suffer with how bad his novel is several times and the forest fire not really being thing until it is feeling artificial constructions that will are kind of assured will mean something later (kind of like Chekhov's gun).  I would have liked not to feel like I was being manipulated from the first frame.

Reservations aside, the film does manage to pull things together in the final moments and I felt a tug of the heart strings and got misty at several points in the closing minutes (even if I full knew they were completely unrealistic). Honestly, I would have loved a whole film that had the structure and emotion of those final minutes.

Is the film worth seeing?

Yes. But I'm not certain it's going to be one of your great films of the year.

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