Last night I drove all the way to Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center (45 minutes) to see Christian Petzold‘s Afire. Then I had to drive back, of course — another 45 for a total travel experience of 90 minutes.
Afire really isn’t worth all that time and gasoline. Because it requires the viewer to spend the entire running time (103 minutes) with one of the emptiest, most self-absorbed, clueless and physically unattractive characters I’ve ever hung with in my moviegoing life.
We’re speaking of Thomas Schubert‘s Leon, a fat, seemingly untalented, self-deluding writer for the first 85 or 90 minutes. And yet following a third-act tragedy that I won’t disclose, Leon suddenly becomes a gifted writer. Quelle surprise!
And so the film, we realize, isn’t as much about pudgy, fucked-up Leon as the difference between spinning your wheels for no discernible reason and writing true and straight about something real. And what improving your game can sometimes involve (i.e., a horrific inferno, the charring of flesh, the blackening of bones, being faced with terrible finality).
So the ending isn’t half bad but the first 85 or 90…God! Immature, pissed off, lost-in-the-proverbial-woods Leon obsessing about the highly attuned, rail-thin Nadja (Paula Beer) and never making any headway because he’s such a fleshy, mopey, self-deluding asshole.
Yesterday’s boilerplate: “While vacationing by the Baltic Sea, writer Leon (Schubert) and photographer Felix (Langston Uibel) are surprised by the presence of Nadja (Beer), a mysterious young woman staying as a guest at Felix’s family’s holiday home. Nadja distracts Leon from finishing his latest novel and, with brutal honesty, forces him to confront his caustic temperament and self-absorption. An encroaching forest fire threatens the group as Nadja and Leon grow closer, and tensions escalate when a handsome lifeguard and Leon’s tight-lipped book editor also arrive.”
If I was a film director I wouldn’t dare make a movie as thin, irritating and lacking in tension as the first two acts of Afire are. I was instantly annoyed and glancing at my watch and feeling sorry for myself, being stuck with this obviously not-very-good film and coping with air-conditioning that was too cold.
All I can say is thank God Schubert never gets naked, and double thank God he and Beers never do the actual deed. (Early on sex happens off-screen between Beer and another guy who’s mainly gay.) That’s not saying stuff doesn’t happen between them, or that their interactions aren’t faintly interesting from a certain perspective.
I was just grateful that Petzold respected the sensibilities of persons like myself. His discretion was gratifying. For he spared me the sight of Leon’s cashew-sized appendage…down on my knees!
In a comment HE reader Canyon Coyote tried to casually normalize beefalo + thin girl relationships, which he says are par for the course in his neck of the woods. I’ve spotted such pairings but c’mon, they were highly unusual before the obesity plague began to encroach roughly 20 years ago.
As I noted yesterday, Schubert is actually a bit heavier than John Belushi in Animal House and not that far from his appearance during his final Chateau Marmont cocaine speedball chapter, and only a few heaping plates of pasta short of obese. Just saying.