Afire ★★½

At various times in my life I’ve been exactly the kind of asshole at the center of this movie but even at my worst I think I would’ve recognized the extreme good fortune of having four supporting characters, one of them played by the bewitching Paula Beer, playing bit parts in my own insufferable drama. Leon, the ostensible protagonist of this multilayered but still shallow Christian Petzold drama, is not just a self-absorbed maniac, he’s a self-absorbed maniac who is inexplicably held in relatively generous esteem by those other characters, and that produces a frustration that undermines the entire narrative. There’s no reason why any of them should feel remotely beholden to Leon, and yet they do, and the audience has to repeatedly wonder “Why?,” to the point where we really have to question the plausibility of the entire premise. By the end my frustration had boiled over; this movie felt lazy and, to the extent that it’s autobiographical for Petzold,  conceited too. It’s beneath the director’s formidable talents, especially the moment when one character earnestly and ridiculously confesses they’ve loved another since “the very first moment.”

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