Film Review: Phoenix

By Archie Grant
In her latest film, Camilla Strøm Henriksen presents us with a stark look the far to common situation
of children taking up the mantle of being the caregiver in a modern family. Jill, Ylva Thedin Bjørkaas, is a typical 13 year old girl who essentially has motherhood thrust upon her as she is forced to care for her younger brother Bo and often at times her mother, Astrid, due to her depression and alcohol dependence. Their father, absent for most of the film, has separated from their mother and provides little care for the siblings leaving Jill under immense pressure to essentially raise her brother.

The film takes place in the days around Jill’s 14 th birthday, a point Henriksen uses to further emphasise Jill’s role as the caregiver of the family. At a time when others should be focusing on her and providing an opportunity for her to relax and celebrate, she is lumbered with the task of feeding, clothing and caring for her brother and to a lesser extent her mother. Her father begins to show his underlying feelings of guilt, due to him not being present to raise his children, by buying her an
expensive dress.
Henriksen uses the all to familiar themes of substance abuse and adolescent responsibility to keep the film moving at a relatively steady pace. Other than the somewhat unexpected twist the audience is never presented with anything that feels fast or tense. Despite this the film is successful in showing the viewer the complex relationships between characters that have grown out of the circumstances they find themselves in. The siblings show nothing but unconditional affection to their
father yet he clearly has great difficulty being honest with them, seeing himself as deeply flawed and a failure for not giving them the start in life they deserved. The film is moving and Henriksen does extract empathy from the audience for the siblings yet the film does feel slow and this can often leave the viewer feeling more a bystander than someone engaged with the characters.