Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, March 23, 2017


Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld
PHOENIX (2014). Director: Christian Petzold.

Nelly (Nina Hoss), a concentration camp survivor whose face has been reconstructed, returns to Germany and is helped by her dear friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf). Nelly wants to find her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), but Lene warns her that he betrayed her to the Nazis. Nelly can't believe this, but when she re-encounters Johnny, he doesn't recognize her and in fact wants her to pretend to be herself so he can lay claim to her money. Loving not wisely but well, Nelly goes along with the "deception," but she may not be able to deal with the bitter truth. Phoenix may seem to borrow a plot point from Anastasia or Return from the Ashes, which is not surprising in the latter case since Phoenix and Return were both based on the novel Le Retour des cendres. The story is treated quite differently in each film, however. Return from the Ashes is basically a suspense film, whereas Phoenix, although it has some suspense in its understated way, is more of a drama. Phoenix also examines the feelings of Jews and other Germans in the post WW2 period, and is quite moody and low-key. This approach may not work for everyone, but it is quietly powerful nevertheless. Another change is that there are hints that the character of Lene may be a lesbian who is in love with Nelly, making certain late developments in the picture even more tragic. The film is very well acted by the entire cast. One might wish, however, that despite the numbness felt by the main character, there was a little more emotion in the picture and perhaps a more dramatic windup..

Verdict: Flawed but absorbing. ***

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