Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Phoenix - 2014 film review

Phoenix is a film released in 2014 which has earned a good deal of critical acclaim. It's a German movie, directed by Christian Petzold, and it's set in the aftermath of the Second World War. The way in which German people struggled to come to terms with the post-war world, and the reality of the atrocities that had been committed, has yielded some fine novels as well as several good films,and it remains a haunting subject.

The story opens with Nelly Lenz (played by Nina Hoss), a former singer who has suffered terribly during the Holocaust, and is in need of facial reconstruction surgery. Her friend Lene is a source of support, but the scale of the surgery means that Nelly's new appearance differs from her previous appearance to some extent. We learn that Nelly is destined to inherit a fortune, and Lene wants them both to make a new life in Palestine.

Nelly, however, is fixated by her feckless husband Johnny, and contrives to meet him again. He doesn't realise she is the wife he thought had been killed, but the resemblance causes him to try to persuade her to impersonate Nelly, in order to get at the money. But the nagging question remains - did Johnny betray Nelly to the Nazis?

The film is based on an excellent novel by Hubert Monteilhet, Return from the Ashes, which I much enjoyed a few years back. However, the screenplay departs radically from the original, and if you are looking for a classic film noir, or a storyline as clever as that in Trap for Cinderella, you will be disappointed. This is a well-made and thought-provoking film, but it's not a mystery in any conventional sense.

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