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TIFF 2018 Review: “Phoenix” (2018) ★★★★


phoenix

How would we expect a thirteen-year-old girl, who is about to turn fourteen, to react when she finds her loved one dead? What should she do when her estranged father, who keeps forgetting her birthday, suddenly decides to pay a visit? How to handle the stress and confusion of her little brother Bo, who has no idea why suddenly their mother has disappeared? In Camilla Strom Henriksen’s amazingly directed first feature film, an unusual decision must be made in a seemingly straightforward situation…

“Phoenix” follows Jill (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin) who, at her young age, helps her mother to keep her sanity or whatever’s left of it. Her mother, Astrid (Maria Bonnevie), is an artist and draws beautiful paintings, but also suffers from mental illness. Her friend, Ellen, recommends her to a local art museum where she’s expected to pass her job interview. The director of the art museum had a crush on her back when they were in school, so now it seems everything should settle down if Astrid gets the job.

“I am so inspired”, Astrid says to her daughter. “This is an opportunity I was expecting. I am going to rise up like a phoenix from the ashes,” Astrid promises to her daughter on her birthday eve. But unfortunately, what happens the next day will force Jill to reconsider her plans, do everything possible to keep the fragile family together while her mother in the basement waits for her dead body to be removed after willfully taking her own life.

That said, “Phoenix” is a slow-burned drama with elements of mystery or even horror. Exceptional direction makes it worthwhile seeing as many times as you want.  But talking about horror, it’s rather the situation Jill will find herself in. Her father (Sverrir Gudnason), for instance, is a world-famous musician who travels the world. “I am not made for family life,” he confesses to his own daughter at some point. But if the grown-up man can’t handle the difficulties of life, what should Jill then do? Sadly, there’s no right answer to that.

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