Afire Blu-ray Review: A Mixed Portrait of Uneasy Relationships

Some films have ideas that are so obvious that they are impossible to ignore once you discovered them. Unfortunately, Christian Petzold, a usually compelling and involving German filmmaker, missed the mark with last year’s Afire, a mixed portrait of uneasy relationships amidst a raging forest fire.

Buy Afire Blu-ray

Leon (Thomas Schubert) and Felix (Langston Ulbel) head to a vacation home on the cusp of the Baltic Sea that belonged to Felix’s father. Leon is a very self-absorbed, misanthropic writer who demands constant peace and quiet, while Felix, a photographer, is more open and upbeat. Leon’s annoyance is pushed even further when they arrive to discover that Nadja (Paula Beer), a mysterious but kind young woman, and her lifeguard lover Devid (Enno Trebs) are already there.

When Leon’s publisher (Matthias Brandt) arrives, tensions raise to a fever pitch, as he connects more to Felix, Devid, and especially Nadja instead of him, not to mention the giant fire that surrounds them, threatening their lives.

I really wanted to like this, but I couldn’t. I found it painful and blunt. Despite Schubert’s strong performance, the character of Leon is too much of a prick to like or even want to be in the same room with. And I think that both Felix and Devid are just in the movie to be distractions (or even “eye candy”). The fact that they immediately hook up together and die in the fire near the end, brings back the cliche of gay characters not surviving at the end of a film. However, Beer manages to add gravitas and genuine emotion to her rather confusing character, so I’ll give it that. Also, the fire itself that happens in the final act is again very obvious, not just because of the whole climate angle, but it’s there so that the characters are forced to grow up and realize that there are bigger things to worry about than their flaws and issues.

In the end, Afire is a disappointment because there is an actual interesting story there, one that is unfortunately buried in the fire that takes place in it. If you love Petzold, just stick to his other, more fully realized works. They’re much more rewarding.

Special features include a new interview with Petzold and a trailer. There’s also an essay by critic Michael Joshua Rowin.

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