Tag Archives: Paula Beer

Get In the Game


by George Wolf

Right from the opening minutes of Afire, we know that Leon (Thomas Schubert) isn’t very perceptive. But if you know anything about writer/director Christian Petzold, then you know Leon’s plight is only a means to a deeply resonate end.

Leon and his friend Felix (Langston UIbel) have come to a vacation home by the Baltic Sea for a working holiday. Leon must put the final touches on his latest book before a meeting with his publisher, while Felix needs to ready his photo portfolio for art school.

But the boys find they are not alone on the spacious property. Nadja (Petzold favorite Paula Beer) is staying there as well, and keeping Leon awake via vocal late night trysts with Devid (Enno Tebbs), a lifeguard at the nearby beach.

So the three become friends, while Leon keeps to spying from a distance and declining all offers of fun or relaxation because “work won’t allow it.”

Except, Leon’s never really working. He spends the days as the pooper of this party, too self-absorbed to notice anything outside of his own sad sack, not even the increasing threat of nearby wildfires.

For a time, Petzold (Transit, Undine, Phoenix) crafts an amusing dramedy of awkwardness, one that’s noticeably lighter than his usual fare. But as Leon’s publisher (Matthias Brandt) arrives, more personal details are revealed and the fires grow closer, the film’s third act becomes heavy with timely resonance.

A creative life – a fulfilling life – requires participation. Fear of failing is fear of living, and even the deepest heartaches can come to serve a greater purpose. Indeed, the film itself may be Petzold’s answer to unprecedented recent history.

The small ensemble (stellar) and remote location are common traits of a pandemic production. Are the fires here a winking nod to Leon’s blindness to every forest around him, or a more direct metaphor to the worldwide plague?

The film works either way. Petzold excels with characters like these, yearning to break from whatever may be holding them back. Afire finds him working on a smaller, more comedic scale, but never lacking the keen insight we’ve come to expect.

Swimming in Romance


by George Wolf

Christian Petzold is a filmmaker with an almost casual mastery of storytelling. Those stories may seem simple at first, but he fills them with deeply felt narrative shifts, taut editing and pristine shot selections that make every frame feel imperative, and propels them with characters full of mysterious obsessions.

And for anyone unfamiliar with Petzold (Barbara, Phoenix, Transit), Undine (oon-DEEN-uh) is a wonderful entry into the writer/director’s hypnotic style.

Undine (Paula Beer, simply terrific) works in Berlin, delivering tours and lectures on the city’s urban development post WWII. But when her boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) leaves her, Undine pledges unity with an ancient myth.

She must take the life of this man who has betrayed her and then return to the water as a nymph.

Undine’s water obsession only gains more fuel with her next relationship. Christoph (Franz Rogowski, also stellar) is an industrial diver, and while he and Undine develop a deep, almost supernatural connection, she never truly lets go of Johannes, who has also moved on with another love.

As Christoph’s dives become more dangerous and Undine’s lectures begin to link the personal and historical, Petzold shapes the romance into a head-swimming mix of mythology, thrills and humor.

Like much of Petzold’s work, Undine is anchored by exquisite framing and lush cinematography (the underwater scenes are especially impressive), and driven by characters drawn with easy fascination. The film’s magic and mystery meet the romance and realism with undaunted confidence, delivering a tale that satisfies via the conventional and the celestial.