Afire Christian Petzold (Ger; 2023) Thomas Schubert; Paula Bier
viewed Tyneside Cinema 12 Sept 2023; ticket £11.75
Christian Petzold’s ‘Afire’ is a typical contemporary movie that tries to be about everything and ends up being about nothing, an empty vessel that rings out hollow.
‘Afire’ feels like a bad joke, but a bad joke that is mistold and so loses the point that it is even a joke, leaving the audience simply lost in banality. At the core of the bad joke is the use Petzold’s script makes of the forest fires raging about his setting of a Baltic seaside town. Initially the fires are seen as a background element suggesting perhaps that the scenario will exploit them as an encroaching universalistic phenomenon that will develop into a catastrophic overwhelming effect that defines the movie. But the fire line taken by Petzold is to reduce the presence of the burning forest to a particular simple device. By which I mean that the inferno instead of representing a force of nature, is co-opted by the script as a means of ensuring his two lovers come to ‘tragic’ end, their charred bodies found in the middle of the forest, entwined in a death embrace. It’s Petzold’s way of signing them off as a camp re-enactment of a referenced similar event in Pompeii.
For the most part the plot doesn’t even even cohere on its own terms, and the script feels like an unsuccessful and desperate effort to rescue a failed idea; though what the original idea may have been is anyone’s guess. Besides exploiting film as a bad joke at the expense of the environment it’s difficult to see that Petzold was doing in making this film. Surely he can’t have made ‘Afire’ simply because the tax credits and production money was easily obtainable by the shoot taking place in a remote and seldom utilised part of Germany? Perish the thought, much too cynical.