Afire ★★★★★

"Die Arbeit lässt es nicht zu."

The story of the struggling artist who's not so much standing outside looking in as he's sullenly sitting on the inside (of the holiday home, of his own pretentious, misanthropic, self-flagellating myopia) looking out (at people having a nice time, at life unfolding directly and unselfconsciously). Three quarters of this are a beautifully low-key, carefully observed summer hangout movie that contains just enough hints of smouldering darkness – the irritable sadsack protagonist, the shifting lines of communication, the wildfire that's just out of sight and almost out of mind – for it to do more than coast through on its (excellent) atmosphere. (There is time for a Heine poem to be recited twice in the same scene – an indulgence I love with all my heart.) So by the time the final quarter rolls around, Petzold has lulled you into such a cozy feeling of lazy holiday inertia that the rapid escalation of events hits all the harder: the shot of Paula Beer, who exudes sheer movie stardom in every frame she's in, stepping out of the house and into the devastating final act genuinely made me gasp. That inevitable final pivot into pure melodrama won't work for everyone, but I found myself profoundly moved by it: here, Petzold ties up all those furtive looks, meaningful glances, and suppressed utterances of the first 70-odd minutes into a harrowing exploration of what happens when we refuse – or find ourselves unable – to see and hear the world around us without watering it down and filtering it through cynicism or egotism posing as intellectualism (even if seemingly the only alternative is mining it for artistic catharsis). The emotional culmination of this final salvo – a Farockian shot of a page from a textbook – is momentously sad, yet so simple, so unspectacular that I was surprised by the tears I felt in my eyes. A great film by a great artist.

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