The Ice Cream Seller and the Writer


Director: Christian Petzold

Cast: Thomas Schubert (Austrian), Paula Beer, Eno Trebs (The White Ribbon dir Michael Hanneke), Langston Ubel, Matthias Brandt

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

Film Rating: 8 out of 10

Language: German with English Subtitles.

Please note that this film has not had a commercial cinema release yet.

Acclaimed German film maker Christian Petzold returns with his new film Afire focusing discreetly on the wildfires that ravage Europe in the summer, wreaking havoc on remote holiday destinations. Petzold’s film Afire which premiered at the prestigious Berlinale, the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival, in February 2023 had its exclusive South African premiere hosted by the German consulate in South Africa at the Durban International Film Festival on Sunday 23rd July 2023 at Suncoast Cinemas and I was privileged to attend.

Afire contains only four main characters: tortured self-absorbed writer Leon superbly played by Austrian actor Thomas Schubert who was in attendance at the film premiere; the beautiful yet elusive Nadja wonderfully played with flirty desire by German actress Paula Beer; muscular lifeguard or swimming assistant Devid played by the gorgeous Enno Trebs who as a child actor appeared in director Michael Haneke’s brilliant Oscar nominated film The White Ribbon (2010) and lastly Felix played by Langston Ubel.

With the main location being a beach house near the Baltic Sea, initially Leon and Felix hire the beach house to get some work done during the summer. Much to the boy’s surprise is the appearance of the gorgeous Nadja who is mysterious at first until they soon discover more about her.

Then the athletic and buff Devid appears on the scene, initially presumed to be Nadja’s boyfriend but as Leon discovers that assumption is way off the mark.

The narrative that follows is a tragic comedy about four young adults struggling with their own artistic personalities and their limitations while their surroundings are slowly getting ravaged to the ground by extremely dangerous wildfires.

Director Christian Petzold holds the action tight and keeps the plot mainly between these four characters as they laugh, drink wine, sulk and go for swims. All of them except Leon brilliantly played by Thomas Schubert as a thoroughly dislikeable, self-absorbed and generally painful writer who is struggling to complete a novel which he knows is terrible.

Events take a deadly turn when Leon’s editor Helmut turns up for dinner one summer evening. The intellectually arrogant Helmut played by Matthias Brandt takes a shine to the gorgeous Nadja who flits around all these men riding a bicycle in a red dress, which becomes a motif for flaming hot desire and impending danger.

Afire is completely un-American and decidedly European in every respect. A contemporary tale about modern relations, complete with fluctuating sexualities, an existential threat of climate change which becomes real and a darkly tragic turn of events that inspired the writer to craft a more competent narrative around his fascination with the ice cream seller and the lovers that turn to ash.

Afire is a brilliant film, expertly crafted with effortless acting by all the four main stars. It is highly recommended viewing for those that enjoy premium European cinema content.

Afire gets a film rating of 8 out of 10 and catch it at a cinema when it comes on general release.

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