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TIFF Review: Phoenix

A high school student looks after her brother and mentally ill mother; things seem to be looking better for them with a pending visit from her father and a possible job opportunity.

Jill is a self-sufficient teenager who shares a deep bond with her brother; a more complicated relationship is with her depressed mother which ranges from being malicious to affectionate.  A friend of the mother has orchestrated a job interview for her but the depression returns upon learning that her ex-husband will be visiting and has a girlfriend.

The apartment is filled with shadows and diffused light which mirrors the mental illness of the mother while the father lives in the outside world surrounded by whiteness and natural light.  Though occupying visually thematic different environments both parents are undermined by personal demons, thereby, making them incapable guardians to their children.  The heart and soul of the movie is the relationship between brother and sister believably portrayed by Ylva Thedin Bjørkaas and Casper Falck-Løvås in what turns out to be their first feature film.

Ylva Thedin Bjørkaas has a hypnotic onscreen presence while her character of Jill can be interpreted as being a teenager overburdened with adult responsibilities or a petulant child; this, in turn, influences how one responds to a critical decision she makes that can be seen as either paternal or heartless.  The other issue that gets raised is whether mental illness gets passed on and how it can be potentially conquered.  It is a credit to filmmaker Camilla Strøm Henriksen, making her feature directorial debut, and Bjørkaas that the portrayal is open to debate.    

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Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada; he can be found at LinkedIn.        

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