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
Phoenix has been one film that has been going through the fall film festival circuit (it premiered at Toronto and it has been all over the place around Europe), and even though it has gotten fantastic reviews and it was directed by already established director Christian Petzold, the film has received much attention. So I was thrilled when I saw that this film was in the line-up for the festival, I knew little or nothing about it, I hadn't seen any trailers and it seemed as though this one could be the festival's revelation. Still I went in just hoping to find a decent picture.
Phoenix is Directed by Christian Petzold and it stars Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Uwe Preuss, Michael Maertens and Valerie Koch.
The war has ended and the survivors are returning home. Are they really lucky that they survived? A woman comes back home, to Berlin, with a disfigured face and a shattered mind. Nelly is going to have her face reconstructed, the doctors ask her what face she wants, maybe of a film start, but Nelly just wants her face back. Nelly just wanted everything to be as it was before the war, she wants her life, her husband, she wants to sing in the coir again, she wants to be able to live one more time. She searches for what's lost, her husband Johnny. Johnny who might have betrayed Nelly and sent her to a concentration camp. She ultimately finds Johnny alive, working at a cabaret in Berlin. He doesn't recognize her and her heart is broken. But he sees that her new face is similar to his wife's face and he tells the stranger (Nelly, is own wife) that they could both get a lot of money by pretending that she was his wife. Nelly's healing face and broken spirit accept the challenge of impersonating herself, or at least what she once were. Johnny gives her lessons and through these lessons Nelly hopes to become what she wants was, through these lessons she hopes to win his husband back.
Only a few weeks ago Fury was released, a tired, familiar World War II picture with very little to say. An America *beep* Yeah kind of picture with a lot of violence, where the Germans have the depth of the Nazis in Dead Snow and where every single character in that tank was a mere cliché. If you are going to make a World War II picture at least have some respect for your own subject. The fact that this one was a World War II picture made me a little scared, this sub-genre is way too iterant as it seems as though they make these pictures for the explosions. Really? Should you turn such an important subject into a Michael Bay depthless picture? This one though, fortunately, it is not Fury. It pays respect to its subject and it actually has something to say.
Looking back Phoenix is actually an incredibly simple film, that doesn't even take many risks when it comes to narrative. It is simple but undeniably effective. The film is built up quite slowly and to say the truth it never takes many risky, unpredictable paths as what happens is pretty much expected. Still I found the picture to be incredibly compelling on an emotional level. Much of that is due to the fantastic acting by both Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld and because of Christian Petzold approach. An approach that might seem reserved, cold, too simple to some but I found it to be rich and absorbing. The film is like a big countdown, a crescendo, to a huge emotional climax that's simple and expected and still it struck me quite hard.
Nina Hoss continues to be the target of Christian Petzold's attention and she continues to show why she's worthy of his attention and of the attention of many others. She has already been this year in Anton Corbijn's fantastic A Most Wanted Man delivering a strong performance. I really hope to see more from her in the future because she's got some talent. She carries this picture, she doesn't only give the face to the character, she becomes the character, she shine.
I can see many being upset with the fact that the film doesn't make many bold moves and it ultimately takes the path that you expected it to take. Still it is beautifully constructed and crafted, the acting is excellent (especially from Nina Hoss, who was supposed to be present but didn't make it), it's emotionally complex and rich and it ultimately delivers the goods with a strong climax that will likely wreck you.
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