Tonally, ‘Phoenix’ is tricky to nail down. Part fairytale, part psychological horror and part kitchen sink drama, it tells the story of a girl forced to grow up too fast, trying to keep hold of a tiny fragment of her childhood innocence. Debut writer-director Camilla Strøm Henriksen expertly folds all those elements together so it never leans too hard in any one direction. It’s planted in reality, with just a toe in the surreal.
Jill (Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin) is approaching her fourteenth birthday with typical teenage glee, but also the certainty that things will not be as she’d like – mainly because of her mum. Astrid (Maria Bonnevie), clearly suffering from a depressive mental illness, veers between inspired positivity (she’s an art teacher) and funks of doom and defeatism. Jill’s father is barely in the picture. That means it’s left to the 14-year-old to care for both her younger brother and her mum. Usually stoical, Jill can’t maintain her default-adult composure when something horrifying happens. She’s so unable to cope that she pretends it didn’t occur, and tries to charge on with her birthday as normal.
Henriksen handles Jill’s complex emotional journey brilliantly, helped by a beautiful performance from Thedin. It’s clear there is no happy ending possible, but Henriksen doesn’t wade through misery. She keeps reaching for the possibility of good for a girl who’s torn between wanting to grow up and wanting the chance to be a child first