TIFF 2018: Phoenix Review


Camilla Strøm Henriksen’s debut film takes place in a sometimes surreal and ethereal world, causing us to ponder about the meaning of childhood. The story of a young Scandinavian girl’s plaintive efforts to protect her younger brother and to provide a semblance of family is worth a watch, even though I wished for more time with the children.

Jill, played by Ylva Thedin Bjørkaas, is mature beyond her years. She looks after her alcoholic and mentally ill mother: doing everything from keeping their apartment clean to helping her prepare for an upcoming job interview. When we’re first introduced to Jill’s mother, her face is hidden – her mysterious presence is larger than life and propels the plot forward.

Jill’s birthday is coming up, but her separated parents seem otherwise occupied, never paying her or her brother much thought. Mom is focused on her job interview, wanting to let off steam and to showcase her paintings at the interview, even though her art is not part of the job description. Dad is a musician who just happens to be in town, excited to see his girlfriend. His entrance midway through the film is an eerie one; his tall, skeletal frame appears to just emerge from the shadows. He, too, is larger than life, but for different reasons.

After an event which occurs in a creepy basement, Jill needs to protect her brother (and herself) from the frailties of human nature. This should be no problem for Jill, since she’s so used to taking care of her mother. However, one has to wonder at the toll of Jill’s maturity. A brief scene where Jill checks out her classmate next to her, and wonders whether to take his hand, is one of very few scenes where we can see Jill free of familial obligations.

For a glimpse into a home that is not really a home, and for second chances that are unfulfilled, spend time with the brave Jill.