Friday, July 28, 2023

Afire: Fire in a Poignant German Holiday

 By José Alberto Hermosillo 

Afire poster

“Afire” is an elegantly simple film fueled by fire, desire, and wry humor, directed by the well-known German visionary Christian Petzold, who delivered another masterful piece.

The story takes time to take off. Later, the plot expands into a massive wave of intrinsic emotions. The characters’ relationships swap naturally, and their romances are torched, internally and environmentally speaking.

Leon and Felix drive to a resort town on the Baltic Seacoast to spend quality time when their car breaks down in the middle of the woods. They must continue walking a few miles to Felix’s mother’s country house.

Immersed in finishing his next novel, Leon, played by Thomas Schubert, becomes the story’s anti-hero due to his insecurities and desire to be left alone. The joy of having dinner with friends is slipping out of his hands. Others see his anti-charismatic approach as a person who is wasting his life for nothing. According to the director, Christian Petzold, Leon is a complete douchebag many viewers could identify with.

His partner Felix (Langston Uibel) is an outgoing photographer looking for inspiration for a series of people’s portraits. While trying to sleep, they listened to a series of sexual noises from the next room. Nadja is having sex with Devid (Enno Trebs), the hunky beach lifeguard who does not mind evolving his bisexuality openly.

Paola Bear (“Franz,” “Never Look Away,” “Undine”) superbly plays Nadja, an educated, enigmatic, and blissful woman who, besides her sex addiction, sells ice cream in the plaza while hiding her knowledge in literature.

Leon’s novel, “Club Sandwich,” turned out very badly. It took three days for Christian to write the first chapter of that novel for the publisher Helmut (Mathias Brandt) to read it out loud and to sound clumsy in the film.


In the scene where Nadja criticizes Leon’s work, he dies figuratively, not knowing she is more than an ice cream seller. She does not show off her intellectual capabilities or what she truly is, so she has to look casual and candid about herself and his emotions. At the same time, he has to be cautious and intelligent about a situation he is getting in because now he knows that she is not the object of his desire.

Nevertheless, Leon’s anti-charismatic, unsecured, and contradictory character is depicted with Christian’s personal touches and autobiographical elements in writing. It is a kind of psychoanalysis for the director, who is also an artist. He portrayed himself as a loser in his early films, like in “Cuba Libre,” so why not continue doing it in “Afire.”


In Christian Petzold’s previous and complex projects, “Transit” and “Undine,” the female characters always betray their male counterpart, and “Afire” is no exception. The male figures continuously struggle to express their feelings, and their problems seeking intimacy are apparent.

After finishing shooting “Undine,” the Award-winning director planned to meet with his recurring actress Paola Bear in Paris in 2020. Still, both were stuck with Covid-19 in their respective cities. While recovering, they decided to meet in Berlin to start working on “Afire—titled in German, “Roter Himmel” or “Red Sky.” Both director and actress worked previously in “Transit,” “Undine.”

In a conversation with dozens of fans and film students between the “Afire” and “Phoenix” screenings in Santa Monica, California, Christian Petzold said he was fascinated by dystopian movies. Now, he writes and adapts films closer to reality.

Afire director Christian Petzold in Santa Monica
Christian Petzold & film students at the Aero in Santa Monica. Photo José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

Petzold added something even more profound, “The badge we leave behind is meaningful and will make sense later in our professional and personal lives. Because the real value is not on material things such as a car, a book, or a manuscript, it is more about the emotional badges within a relationship and the possibilities of personal growth with the person you love.”

Christian Petzold & film students at the Aero in Santa Monica. Photo José Alberto Hermosillo. Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023

People often asked him if he would choose another element to complete the trilogy after initiating the series with “Undine,” representing water, and “Afire,” representing fire. The answer is no. He wants to go on a sabbatical. 

The director does not lecture his public in defense of the environment and global warming through his latest work. He does not have a political agenda. The fire represents what needs to be extinguished, and the main characters could expand their intellectual capabilities, bringing complexity and the surprise element to the ending. 

The concept of “labor and leisure” presented in “Afire,” where a writer retreats to a quiet place in the woods to focus on his next novel, is similar to the 2021 Mia Handset-Løve’s “Bergman Island,” in which a couple wants to be inspired for their following projects on the same island where Ingmar Bergman wrote and filmed his most famous masterpieces. 

In the 1945 John Stahl’s classic thriller “Leave Her to Heaven,” everything is set ambiguously to make the spectator wonder who these people are: the writer and the obsessed woman who never thinks about the consequences of her acts. 

Finally, in Roman Polanski’s “The Ghost Writer,” a more obscure and sinister example is set in the leisurely area of Martha’s Vineyard, where a second writer is hired to take over and write a former British Prime Minister’s memoir. 

The Grand Jury Prize Silver Bear winner at the Berlin Film Festival is a movie that makes the audience feel conscious of the surroundings. Petzold’s latest project is clever, humorous, and sophisticated, where spectators can identify with any of these terrific, intelligent, and meticulously well-established characters, where dreams can be tested due to weather conditions and climate change.

AFIRE - Official Trailer

Petzold & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo. 
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2023


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Friday, July 14, 2023

The Territory: The Battle to Save the Amazon Has Just Begun

By José Alberto Hermosillo

“The Territory” is a bold and incendiary Award-winning documentary that courageously uncovers the enigma of the mysterious fires in the Amazon rainforest.


In 2019, the world thought the destruction of the Amazon’s rainforest was from natural causes, dry seasons, and global warming. Behind those fires and deforestation were people in power, farming landowners, transnational companies, and evil men with guns who wanted to take away the land that, for years, belonged to the indigenous people of Brazil.


Intentional Fires in the Amazon, The Territory, Copyright © National Geographic 2022

During his political campaign, the Bolsonaro régime started hate speech against Brazil’s indigenous people: “There won’t be getting one more inch of the indigenous reserve land.” When the populist candidate won the presidency, his government did nothing to protect the land, the natives, the flora and fauna, and the endangered species.

The original story came to light when 
one of the forest defenders and activists, Neidinha Bandeira, got enough hate mail, death threats, and a kidnapping attempt and decided to write an urgent message about her safety and the security of the people in the area to journalists worldwide.


Director Alex Pritz, producer Gabriel Uchida & producer Sigrid Dyekjær. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo.
Raleigh Studios, Hollywood.
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2022

In 2016, a friend of the Award-winning Brazilian journalist and producer Gabriel Uchida told him to cover and document the story of the fires and the full-scale warfare the natives had to protect the rainforest. Since then, Gabriel moved to Amazon’s communities to continue his journalist work and bring to light the recompilation of those tragic events.

Director Alex Pritz, producer Gabriel Uchida. Photo by José Alberto Hermosillo.
Raleigh Studios, Hollywood.
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2022

In New York, director Alex Pritz opened up a conversation with the elderly Indigenous people and, with their permission, recorded their lives. Then, he became interested in filming the Brazilian natives in their land. Their resilience, courage, and resistance inspired him to get involved in the documentary.

Respectful of the indigenous cultural identity, Alex Pritz did not want to exploit the natives’ land, culture, or language because the white settlers had taken so much from them, even their land. White people presumed ownership of the indigenous narrative and traditions.

The Territory, Copyright © National Geographic 2022

After one of those Dantesque fires, Neidinha questions the illegal actions of those without conscience and the tremendous environmental impact on humanity. She also asks for the safety of the Uru-eu-wau-wau people and wonders how many more will have to die protecting the rainforest.

Alex Pritz’s nonintrusive camera work is extraordinary. His photography ranges from the smallest insect to aerial views of the Amazonia. He shares the cinematography credits with an insider, Tangãi Uru-eu-wau-wau.


Alex Pritz reached out to the Invaders, juxtaposing his personal experience and comparing the white trespassers in Brazil with American colonialism, who always see themselves as heroes without awareness of their actions.


It took three years to make the documentary. The challenges were enormous. The crew had to drive 6 to 8 and even 12 hours to arrive at the location during the rainy season. 


Editor Carlos Rojas lays an organic structure where audiences can easily follow each character in their natural environment thanks to individual introductions of their struggles and desires. The transitions he presents are beautiful. However, the desirable equilibrium to display all the storylines visually needs to be there. The unnecessary expository dialogues water down the emotional impact of this already powerful documentary.

Katya Mihailova’s music is memorable. She carries a positive energy, and the upbeat rhythms create tension during the dangerous scenes. To identify the uniqueness of every character, the music composer gave each one a unique score, bringing the sounds of the frontier and the rainforest to another level.


Well-known director Darren Aronofsky (“The Whale,” “Black Swan,” “The Wrestler”) also got involved, together with Sigrid Dyekjær (“The Cave,” “Food and Country,”) and Gabriel Uchida, from the outstanding producers’ team giving total control and full support to director Alex Pritz.

The Territory, Copyright © National Geographic 2022

Knowledge empowers people. Therefore, Amazonians must document every incursion, intentional fire, and attempt against their lives using cameras, drones, computers, and social media as weapons against the invaders. Now, they can send the material directly to the news broadcasters and engage with more people to help protect Brazil’s indigenous land.


Director Alex Pritz, producer Gabriel Uchida, film critic José Alberto Hermosillo & producer Sigrid Dyekjær.
Raleigh Studios, Hollywood.
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2022

Fanatics of President Bolsonaro learned about the making of the film and how the documentary empowered the native communities, wanted the filmmakers out of Brazil, and sent life threats to their phones, emails, and homes.


During the three weeks of theatrical release in Brazil, “The Territory” had a strong response from locals, where half of the audience was from indigenous communities.


“The Territory” is a highly recommended documentary that has been nominated for three Primetime Emmy Awards, including exceptional Merit Documentary Filmmaking, Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program, and Outstanding Direction for a Documentary/Nonfiction Program. It is now streaming on Hulu.

The National Geographic/Brazilian co-production is the Audience Award and the Special Jury Award Winner for Best Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival 2022. The Cinema for Peace Award and Best Documentary at the Zurich Film Festival.

The Territory | Official Trailer | National Geographic

Director Alex Pritz, producer Gabriel Uchida & film critic José Alberto Hermosillo.
Raleigh Studios, Hollywood.
Copyright © Festival in LA, 2022

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