Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Movie: Phoenix

Phoenix:  a post WW II German story.  This film takes place in Berlin.  In the opening scene, we learn that the protagonist, Nelly, is a concentration camp survivor whose face has been so badly damaged it is completely bandaged.  We soon learn that prior to the war, Nelly had been a successful singer.  We also learn that although Nelly is Jewish, in 1938, she chose to return to Germany from a singing engagement in London.  As the film unfolds, we also learn that Nelly’s husband is not Jewish and that she had not been sent to the Camp until early 1944.  Nelly (Nina Hoss) is the only member of her family to survive.  The film deals only with her return from the Camp, not her incarceration, and her coping with being a sole survivor.  We learn of events that occurred prior to Nelly’s imprisonment during the course of her numerous plastic surgeries and as she searches for and interacts with her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld).  When Nelly finally meets Johnny, he does not recognize her due to the complete facial reconstruction.  Johnny believes Nelly is dead; he knows the rest of her family is deceased.  If Johnny can convince the right people that Nelly is alive, he will be a wealthy man.  Nelly chooses to withhold her true identity and assist Johnny in his scheme.  A significant portion of this 98-minute movie involves Nelly pretending to be learning about herself so that Johnny’s scheme will work.  This is one of those tales where if you can accept the bizarre premise, the morality play that unfolds is engrossing.  Nelly clearly loves Johnny and tells her friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf) that the thought of reuniting with him is the force that allowed her to survive the Camp.  Nelly remains in denial as to Johnny’s character throughout the film.  Lene knows Johnny’s true story, but will Nelly abandon her love for Johnny to face the reality of who he is?  Christian Petzold directed and co-wrote the script.  He creates a period piece that accurately depicts life immediately after the war.  However, it is the performances of Hoss and Zehrfeld that overcome what I believe is a defective storyline.  Why the title?  On the surface, it is the name of the nightclub where Johnny is working when Nelly finds him.  Based upon the serious themes addressed in this film, it is an appropriate title.  Most of the movie is in German and the subtitles are excellent.