Phoenix (15)****

Dir: Camilla Strom Henriksen

With: Ylva Bjørkaas Thedin, Maria Bonnevie, Sverrir Gudnason

Runtime: 86 mins

On general release but also showing this weekend as part of the splendid Glasgow Youth Film Festival, this sombre but deeply affecting Norwegian drama arrives as a meticulously observed, precisely crafted account of a family put through the most trying of circumstances.

Oslo teenager Jill (Thedin) lives with her unemployed, mentally unstable mother Astrid (Bonnevie) and a younger brother who is still innocent enough not to fully appreciate the extent of his mother’s depression. No such respite for Jill though, who has clearly been round the block with her a few times even as we join their lives, and is realistic enough to know that Astrid’s proclamations of rising phoenix-like from her funk are unlikely to come to pass.

The subtle and skilful way the long-suffering depths of these characters gets conveyed through body language and fleeting facial expressions speaks to a filmmaker in full command of her craft, and writer-director Henriksen draws outstanding performances from every one of her cast, with particular plaudits to Thedin. Constantly let down by the supposed adults around her, Jill has reached a tipping point in her internal battle between encouraging her mother and railing against her, and tonally and thematically Phoenix is quite similar to the recent Gwen, but able to play out its story beats in much less enigmatic and far more convincing ways. And you can trace some of its darker ideas back to Ian McEwan’s Cement Garden, yet it emerges as still very much its own beast.

The characters and the drama exist on a knife edge, with tense and harrowing scenes driven by Astrid’s unpredictability, and the darkness enveloping her magnified by the film being set pretty much exclusively - for the first half or more anyway - in their stuffy apartment. That’s in sharp contrast to the clean, bright spaces they go out to, or the apartment of Jill’s musician father (Gudnason), the very model of crisp Scandi chic.

He has a tendency to flit in and out of their lives, and the way his involvment bleeds into that and what we’re able to infer from his behaviour is skilfully and patiently drawn out so that, despite an ever-so-slight midsection lull, Phoenix emerges triumphant. PAUL GREENWOOD