Roter Himmel - Il cielo brucia

“Roter Himmel” by Christian Petzold

Article by Valentina Testa

Translation by Alessia Licari

The sky burns above Leon (Thomas Schubert), a hopeless author, as he is writing a book without first having thought of an actual story. Concern is evident on his face while he repeats to himself that others do not understand him, his clothes are always black and he often hides in the shadows, he lies in wait at the blind spot of a door window to peek at other people’s lives. He has a tattoo on his chest, barely visible and which can only be glimpsed behind the hem of his shirt: it looks like the perfect picture to represent someone who is almost afraid to be part of the real world.

Presented out of competition at the 41th Turin Film Festival, Roter Himmel (Afire) by Christian Petzold has a simple but essential architecture. The starting point is Leon’s existential crisis, the quintessence of a narcissistic author who would like to control the world as if it was made up of characters straight out of his own books. His balance is broken by Nadja (Paula Beer), the only female character in the story, a woman that appears elusive and hard to understand to Leon. Maybe this is the reason why he falls in love with her: he sees her as an enigma and as if he could shape her according to his own imagination – just like the character of a novel. However, unlike him, Nadja doesn’t want to hide: «Why didn’t you tell me that you were a PhD student in literature?», he asks her once he finds out that she has a similar – and even more important – job position. «Because you didn’t ask me», she replies, chin high.

The one written by Petzold is not exactly a love story, but more like a story about love and about talking about love, a metaphor of a need for storytelling which simultaneously saves and condemns. The tragedy is inevitable and is constantly in the background, just like the sky, red and lightened up by the flames during the protagonist’s brief vacation. When a tragedy strikes – just as it also does in Leon’s life – we might end up ignoring it altogether, consumed by our trivial emotions that make us believe that we are the center of the world. Or, instead, we could be so shocked by it that we sublimate it to the point it becomes poetry.

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