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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Phoenix (Føniks) movie review: but will she rise again?

Phoenix 2019 green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

This Norwegian family drama, tinged with fantasy and horror, depicts a teen girl’s emotional turmoil through fantastical, yet oddly pragmatic, reveries. Newcomer Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin is heartbreaking.
I’m “biast” (pro): I am desperate for movies by and about women and girls
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female screenwriter, female protagonist
(learn more about this)

Family drama tinged with fantasy limned with horror, this first feature from Norwegian writer-director Camilla Strøm Henriksen is an unnerving portrait of a young teenager burdened with adult responsibility, and then cracking when that finally proves to be too overwhelming.

Young teen Jill (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin) is the one keeping her cosy Oslo household together, caring for her little brother, Bo (Casper Falck-Løvås), and coddling their damaged, fragile mother, Astrid (Maria Bonnevie: A Second Chance); Mom seems to be manic depressive, and she’s certainly unable to cope with the simplest of life’s demands. But a reprieve is in the offing! Jill and Bo’s estranged father, Nils (Sverrir Gudnason: The Girl in the Spider’s Web), is coming for a surprise visit, just in time to celebrate her 14th birthday. A musician, he turns out to be, like their artist mother, bursting with creative expression, though he appears much more grounded, or at least actually keeping his shit together in a way that their mother cannot. Could this be a possible escape? Could Jill and Bo go live with Dad for a while? That hope is unspoken, but it shines through the heartbreaking despair on newcomer Thedin’s face as Jill struggles to contain the damage her mother’s reckless behavior does to her, and to protect Bo from it.

Phoenix 2019 Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin Sverrir Gudnason

A dream of a life with Dad…

That hope may be a cruel one: with a seemingly contradictory pragmatism, Henriksen casts Jill’s emotional turmoil through fantastical reveries, as the girl imagines her mother’s fabric paintings and ropelike tapestries come slithering to hideous life, scuttling across floors out of the corner of her eye, suggesting a yearning to reshape reality that Jill might just be able to pull off, if only she can pretend desperately enough. We suspect almost from the beginning that Jill’s is an impossible dream, and that there is no coming back from the necessity of her growing up far too soon.


Click here for my ranking of this and 2019’s other releases.



green light 4 stars

Phoenix (Føniks) (2019) | directed by Camilla Strøm Henriksen
UK/Ire release: Sep 13 2019

BBFC: rated 15 (disturbing scenes, suicide references)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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