In the aftermath of WWII, Nelly, a Jewish survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp, horribly disfigured from a bullet wound in her face, undergoes a series of facial reconstruction surgeries and decides to find her husband Johnny who works at the Phoenix club in Berlin. Undoubtedly, Nelly is stunning, yet, her new self is beyond recognition, so Johnny, the man who may have betrayed her to the Nazis, will never imagine that the woman in front of him who bears an uncomfortable and unsettling resemblance to his late wife, is indeed her. Without delay, and with the intention to collect the deceased's inheritance, Nelly will go along with Johnny's plot and she will impersonate the dead woman, giving the performance of a lifetime before friends and relatives in a complex game of deceit, duplicity, and ultimately, seduction. In the end, during this masquerade, as the fragile and broken Nelly tries to find out whether Johnny betrayed her or not, she will have to dig deep into her wounded ...Written by
This could have been a disaster. The premise (which I will not spoil, but is easy to find) takes some swallowing, but director Petzold and star Hess get you over the initial bump to set up a situation of great tension. The difficulty then becomes resolving that satisfactorily - and when I saw Nina Hess introduce this movie at the London Film Festival, she said that initially they weren't sure how to end it - but they pull off an absolutely bravura climax to the tale, an unforgettable scene, cinema at its finest.
Hess is brilliant in the central role, a really difficult part that she makes absolutely convincing. The other star here is the cinematography. There are other fine moments too - a really creepy scene early on full of women with bandaged faces - that help set the atmosphere. But the real thrill is to see a story told with such conviction and concluded with such panache.
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