Onto the next MAMI release and I finished watching the new German film titled Afire. And the beauty of this festivals is that I have got an opportunity to watch so many different kinds of films from across the globe, and that too on the big screen. Also, because these are premieres of sorts, I have been going into these films with a fresh slate and discovering cinema like never before. Afire is directed by Christian Petzold whom I was told is a masterful storyteller with respect to the world building and his craft with character dynamics. This being my first brush with his filmography, I was quite curious venturing into Afire. So then does Afire manage to impress, let’s find out.
Story & Screenplay
Afire follows the story of a protagonist vacationing in the woods with his friend, who forms an uncanny bond with a mysterious woman at a family home. The story is complex and layered touching upon the concepts of loneliness and incompleteness which is told in the most organic manner possible. The screenplay standing a timid length of a 103 minutes unfolds at a leisurely pace but there was so much to unpack and discover here that it made for one of the most heartaching and bittersweet experiences on the big screen this year.
The first thing that struck a chord with me was the beautiful location that was synonymous with the leisurely pace of the drama. The quiet outing of the woods with a nearby beach seemed quite meditative in nature with a little conflict of a forest fire lurking in the background. The writers though manage to keep the focus on all the principal characters featuring the protagonist who has an indifferent behavior towards a mysterious woman(named Nadja) who has been taking care of his friend’s family home. He is even startled by her moans at night, almost wanting to escape the arena and sleep outside, even at the cost of getting bitten by insects. His behavior is also indifferent towards a young man who has been sleeping with the woman, that did seem to be the initial seeds of jealousy in a relationship. And all of it is laced with subtle bouts of humour.
The proceedings are engaging and engrossing while unfolding a leisurely pace with the focus being on interpersonal relationships from the point of view of the protagonist. And during its runtime, you get to know the character traits of the protagonist who is shown to be a writer which is the first sign of being an introvert, and someone who cannot express his emotions with people, only to pen those down. Yet, his relationship with Nadja remains bittersweet with a hint of chemistry waiting to explode!
The third act is one of the most seamless ‘switches’ with respect to the tone of the drama that I have witnessed all year. A searing conflict which was used only as a passing reference right throughout, suddenly explodes leaving you almost hollow from within. The concepts of incompleteness, destiny and loneliness is so beautifully amalgamated with the inherent conflict that it made for a beautifully heartfelt final act with traces of hope along the way. Overall, the screenplay is wonderfully penned and makes for a brilliant watch.
Dialogues, Music & Direction
The dialogues are conversational, and the conversations flow so organically like the ones on a hot sunday afternoon. The BGM is sparingly used, almost relying on natural sounds and not overpowering the drama. The cinematography is incredibly good, capturing the fleeting vibe of the drama beautifully. The editing is crisp and sharp. Director Christian Petzold does a brilliant in constructing a drama filled with humour with being wonderfully crafting with the handling of emotions and the interpersonal relationships between characters. The direction was phenomenal here.
The performances are absolutely top notch here. Enno Trebs as Devid is first rate and oozes with charm despite a limited screen time. Langston Uibel as Felix has an easy going energy to him and that reflects in his choice of profession in the drama. He was just natural to the core. Matthias Brandt as Helmut has his moments to shine. Paula Beer as Nadja looks beautiful and has such a glowing screen presence that it is hard not to look at her in any frame. And she uses her infectious smile to charm you with her towering performance. Thomas Schubert as Leon is such a complex character and he hits all the right notes with his performance. It was a towering act of the highest order by him in a rather challenging role.
As a part of our MAMI coverage, Afire is a brilliant drama highlighting the complexities of love, loneliness and incompleteness to perfection. A film not to be missed at MAMI, and a film that is highly recommended from my end!