Country: Germany / Poland
Movie Review: Beautifully crafted, with refinement and objectivity, “Phoenix”, Christian Petzold’s adaptation of Hubert Monteilhet‘s novel ‘Le Retour des Cendres’, is a pungent drama set in a shattered post-war Berlin. The German filmmaker and co-writer brings in his long-time inspirational muse, Nina Hoss (their sixth collaboration), to portray the sad story of St. Michael’s choir singer, Nelly Lenz, an anti-Nazi transfigured woman who miraculously survived to a concentration-camp and obsessively looks for her crooked pianist husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), most likely the man responsible for her capture. Another character with strong dimension is Nelly’s savior, Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), a Swiss Jew whose disappointment with the forgiving posture of the Jews, in general, is patent. Her role leads to opposite emotional sides since she brings some cheerful hope but also the shocking truth about Nelly’s family. After finding Johnny in a nightclub called ‘Phoenix’, the unrecognizable Nelly agrees to participate in a strange game with him, playing his missing wife, so he can claim her valuable inheritance. At this moment, Nelly experiences mixed feelings, admitting she’s jealous of her past self, but increasingly becoming enveloped by suspicion. Petzold injects all the elements that permit us to identify his work identity – formidable camera work, unshakeable storytelling, subtle score, sharp photography, perfect timing when using silence, and lastly, an impactful finale to be remembered. The presence of a gun is merely symbolic since the film overwhelms you by other means. “Phoenix”, or Fassbinder’s “Lili Marleen” meets Franju’s “Eyes Without a Face”, is a major example of emotional expressiveness. Just give it some time to be fully absorbed.