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BERLINALE 2024 Generation

Review: Who by Fire

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- BERLINALE 2024: In Philippe Lesage’s Generation-awarded film, hell may be other people, but the scariest demons lurk inside our own hearts and minds

Review: Who by Fire
Carlo Harrietha, Paul Ahmarani, Sophie Desmarais, Aurélia Arandi-Longpré, Noah Parker, Antoine Marc Marchand-Gagnon, Arieh Worthalter and Guillaume Laurin in Who by Fire

Who by Fire [+see also:
interview: Philippe Lesage
film profile
]
by Philippe Lesage, which was screened in the Berlinale’s Generation 14plus section, winning its main award in the process (see the news), starts off a bit like a horror film. A family sets off on a trip to a remote cabin to stay with the father’s old friend and his other guests. There is no way to get there – or out of there – but by aeroplane, which is also carrying all the food and wine. Way too much wine, in fact. If this were a fright flick, an unknown evil would make an appearance, either bursting out of the woods or lurking in the attic…

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But in actual fact, other kinds of monsters rear their nasty heads, as it turns out that the head of the family – Albert (Paul Ahmarani), an acclaimed screenwriter who has seen better days – has come with a lot of emotional baggage. He used to work closely with the host, successful director Blake (Arieh Worthalter), who has turned from fiction to documentary, so now he no longer needs Albert. Or maybe it was the other way around?

Whenever these two sit down to dinner with the rest of the guests, all the old anger, frustrations and anxiety feel fresh and new again. Albert’s kids, Max (Antoine Marchand-Gagnon) and Aliocha (Aurélia Arandi-Longpré), in their late teens or early twenties, attempt to mollify their dad when he goes too far, as they know his routines and his excessive drinking all too well. At the same time, Max’s friend Jeff (Noah Parker) harbours a secret crush on Aliocha, an aspiring writer who, regardless of having been given a male name, is all female and seductive. He also admires Blake, who has secret trysts with Aliocha, which makes life for Jeff a hellish road, paved with frustration and anger.

In the countryside, the group partakes in activities like hunting, fishing and canoeing down a fast-flowing river, which adds tension to the story, and perfectly represents the wildness and the type of primordial masculinity displayed by Albert, Blake and Jeff. These three can barely hold their emotions back or navigate them in a healthy way, while the female component of the group, including Blake’s actor friend and editor (Sophie Desmarais and Irène Jacob), seem to be holding it together, or just staying silent for their own sake, which clearly points a finger at the patriarchy – a monster from the past still haunting the present.

The film is composed of long scenes or sequences without many cuts, which are either interspersed with ominous sounds or steeped in some rather intense music, which makes Who by Fire – an accomplished and curious picture – pulsate with horror-like dread. It can also easily be read as a portrait of a dysfunctional family, who look normal on the outside yet who are stifled by frustration and the fear of rejection, or who simply don’t like each other.

The movie has some lighter elements, too, like a lovely drunk-dancing scene, when everyone has been numbed enough by the alcohol to enjoy each other’s company. Hell is other people, as Sartre once wrote, even if they’re not running around with hockey masks and a long knife.

Who by Fire is a Canadian-French film, produced by Productions l’Unité Centrale and Shellac Sud. Worldwide rights are with Be for Films.

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