It’s summer by the Baltic Sea. Four friends gather in a vacation home. There’s Léon, a shy young writer, and there’s the fascinating Nadja. This is Christian Petzold’s third film with actress Paula Beer. After Ondine (2020), she is at the heart of Ciel Rouge, a romantic comedy bordering on disaster movie.
Paula Beer first met Christian Petzold for the very strange Transit (2018). In this World War II story set in contemporary Marseille, she is the mysterious Marie, searching for the man she loves among the refugees fleeing the occupation. A German filmmaker, Petzold has already made a name for himself in France for his acclaimed Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014). Twenty-three-year-old Paula Beer is also well known to French audiences, having starred alongside Pierre Niney in François Ozon’s historical drama Frantz two years earlier. She will be seen again in 2019 in Antonin Baudry’s underwater blockbuster Le Chant du Loup, as the girlfriend of sonar operator Chanteraide, played by François Civil.
Since Transit, Paula Beer has been the lead actress in all Christian Petzold’s films. She won the Silver Bear for Best Actress at the Berlinale 2020 for her role as a Berlin urban planning specialist and water engineer in the half-realistic, half-fantasy drama Ondine. With Le Ciel Rouge, Petzold offers Paula Beer a new variation on the same character, at once charming and inscrutable. “Paula Beer is one of the very few actresses who are both very young and capable of expressing experiences that others only make much later,” said the director after shooting Ondine. “And both levels are always present at the same time: youth, the desire to be young, and life experience.”
Le Ciel Rouge is undeniably a film about youth: summer, recklessness, first love. The canvas is familiar. But there’s something else, an elusive gravity in the air. “Something’s wrong,” remarks one of the characters in the opening shots, as if at the start of a horror film. But there’s nothing fantastic about the impending tragedy. As the film’s title suggests, it’s the forest fires and other consequences of climate change. And the youth of 2023, while still having the carefree love of previous generations, also has a mature awareness of ecological issues. And who better to interpret this rich ambivalence than Paula Beer?
Red Sky by Christian Petzold, in cinemas from September 6