Writer/director Camilla Strøm Henriksen’s Phoenix is a potent exploration of mental health, family dynamics, and the fragile nature of “normalcy”. As Jill (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin) returns home for her 14th birthday, she finds her mother Astrid (Maria Bonnevie) asleep in bed, having abandoned whatever festivities she was planning. Jill tries to clear everything up in an effort to hide her mother’s resurgent depression, and it feels like this is a dance that Jill has done before.
Except Astrid was planning her own celebration. So maybe Jill was being a little too hard on her.
This peculiar walk on eggshells dominates Phoenix. Sometimes we’re meant to think that Jill is doing her best to hold the family together, and sometimes we feel like she might have some issues of her own. Of course, Astrid’s issues do eventually manifest themselves, signifying the unpredictability of mental health.
This is the obvious strength of the film. Very little is stated overtly, and mostly the audience is given the responsibility of making their own judgments. It is a difficult line to walk for the filmmaker and her performers, but for the most part it is executed well.
Phoenix is a powerful film, a treatise on the humongous effect that mental health issues can have on a family. They are pervasive, slowly eeking their way into every aspect of one’s life, and Phoenix dramatizes these themes magnificently.
Saturday, September 15, 12:30 PM, Scotiabank