Christian Petzold’s Phoenix seems to have all the right ingredients It has a compelling story: Concentration camp survivor, Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) comes back to Berlin terribly disfigured. With the help of her friend Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf), a surgeon performs reconstructive surgery, but as he tells Nelly, she will be unrecognizable. Beside the physical scars, the psychological ones also have their challenges. Nelly lives with Lene and she goes out at night, trying to find her husband, Johnny. Hoss gives quite a physical and emotionally wrenching performance. The way she plays her, Nelly seems unstable, and that awkward, ill-fitting hat makes her look even more peculiar. She finds Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) working as a busboy at the Phoenix jazz club. (Johnny is a pianist and Nelly was a singer.) He does not recognize her, but thinks she could pass as his late wife. He makes her a proposal: He tells Nelly (who now calls herself Esther) that he is unable to have access to his wife’s money because he cannot prove that she is dead. If she pretends to be Nelly coming back from the camps and can fool her family, he’ll split the money with her. She goes along with this scheme mainly because she is convinced that Johnny still loves her. But, if they want this to work, Johnny must teach Esther/Nelly how to walk like his dead wife, what to wear, what to say, and , of course, learn enough about Nelly and her family. But Lena tells Nelly that Johnny betrayed her to the Nazis in order to escape torture. Phoenix is perfect in every way. The brilliant screenplay that surprised me with its meaningful poetic relevance. Nina Hoss is in every scene and the other two main actors who are playing with and her are excellent as well. What makes Phoenix such a great film – beside keeping me on the edge of my seat for most of the film – is that it has a good story and a director that knows a thing or two about telling stories.

Rémi-Serge Gratton


Directed by:
Christian Petzold
Screenplay by:
Christian Petzold
Harun Farocki
Based on the novel Le Retour
des cendres by Hubert Monteilhet
Nina Hoss
Ronald Zehrfeld
Nina Kunzendorf
98 min.
Rated Parental Guidance
In German with English subtitles

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