“Afire” follows an absolute wet blanket of a protagonist, novelist Leon (brought to life brilliantly by Thomas Schubert), as he retreats to a vacation home by the German coast with his carefree friend Felix (Langston Uibel) for a work vacation. Leon is reaching crunch time to deliver his second book to a demanding publisher, while Felix is rather less preoccupied by the photography portfolio he’s meant to put together than he is with soaking in the sights and sounds of the idyllic countryside. For Leon, frustration mounts almost from the start: their car suffers an inopportune breakdown that forces them to make the rest of the trek on foot, a room in the house has been mistakenly rented out to another guest (the passionate Nadja, played by Paula Beer), and all the while the threat of uncontrollable wildfires loom in the distance.
All the ingredients are in place for a lighthearted, breezy story about getting Leon to loosen up and find inspiration in the beauty surrounding him, but director Christian Petzold is wholly uninterested in playing to such clichés. At every opportunity, Leon turns down relaxation, fun, and even the hint of sex and romance in favor of the dark cloud hanging heavy over his head, poisoning all who dare come near. In outright denial that the manuscript he’s been working on is actually unsalvageable pablum and consumed by jealousy as Felix, Nadja, and her sometimes-lover Devid (Enno Trebs) constantly find ways to enjoy themselves, Leon becomes a reflection of the absolute worst kind of artist — one so fixated on his work that he forgets to live. Petzold’s clever script both repels and beguiles us as we rarely leave Leon’s perspective, blindsiding us with an absolutely unforgettable conclusion.
“Afire” is currently playing in theaters in limited release.