Phoenix (4 stars)

Phoenix

Impressively assured, piercingly sad drama from debut director Camilla Strøm Henriksen

Normality is hard to define and impossible to realise in Phoenix (Føniks), a mournful, impressively assured first feature from Norwegian actress-turned-writer-director Camilla Strøm Henriksen. Her focus on family life reveals the way Jill (mesmerising newcomer Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin) and her younger brother Bo (Casper Falck-Løvås) are shaped by the failings of their parents, stoically enduring a cycle of modest expectations and crushing disappointments that force them to become self-reliant.

Jill is not yet fourteen but has assumed the role of responsible adult. She looks after Bo, cooks, cleans and tries to maintain a semblance of order. The two of them seem to walk on eggshells around their mother Astrid (Maria Bonnevie), an artist who sees a potential new job as a means of rising from the ashes of the past. The children offer smiles of encouragement whilst their eyes widen with anxiety. Henriksen never feels the need to explain Astrid. The hints of mental illness and her irresponsible attitude tell us all we need to know.

The role reversal mother-daughter relationship is acutely drawn and supplies the heart of what initially feels like a claustrophobic, social realist drama. The scope widens when we meet their father Nils (Sverrir Gudnason), a womanising jazz musician who arrives in Oslo to perform and celebrate Jill's birthday.

Elements of horror creep into the story. There are twists and confessions that expose the monsters hiding in the shadows. Jill and Bo hug each other tightly, like orphans in the storm and the film carries echoes of The Night of the Hunter. The threat here isn't from a psychotic preacher but from the very flawed adults who are unable to take responsibility for themselves, never mind the future of their children. A plaintive, piercingly sad story that is beautifully acted throughout.

Selected release from Fri 13 Sep.

Phoenix

  • 4 stars
  • 2018
  • Norway
  • 1h 26min
  • Directed by: Camilla Strøm Henriksen
  • Cast: Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason

Jill (Thedin) is a thirteen-year-old who looks after her younger brother Bo (Falck-Løvås), while their mother (Bonnevie) struggles with mental health issues and their jazz musician father (Gudnason) is largely absent. Impressive debut feature from writer-director Henriksen, a plaintive, piercingly sad story that’s…

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