Monday, September 28, 2015
STARS: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf
DIRECTOR: Christian Petzold
In Phoenix, Nelly (Nina Hoss) is playing a role. She's playing herself, as if she were someone not herself...playing herself. That's a head scratcher until you learn that she is a concentration camp survivor in post-war Berlin, recovering from reconstructive facial surgery due to a bullet wound.
Her friend and caregiver, Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), wants her to come to Tel Aviv to start a new life. But Nelly is intent upon finding her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). She was a singer--he was a piano player. They made a good team. Or so she thought.
When she finds him, he doesn't recognize her because her face is different. In a poignant scene, he tells her of his wife (herself), convinced that she perished in the camps. But Nelly fits the same profile, he thinks, and he recruits her to impersonate herself in a scheme to collect inheritance money, as the rest of her family had been killed. Here is where we must decide whether to employ the willing suspension of disbelief and go with the idea that Johnny wouldn't recognize his own wife--face altered or not--by the sound of her voice, her mannerisms, etc. My advice is to run with it, because you won't be disappointed the rest of the way.
Nelly doesn't reveal her true identity to Johnny, because Lene has told her that he is the one who betrayed her to the Nazis. She doesn't want to believe it, but she must discern the truth, so she plays along with his scheme until a climactic scene so "heavy" (as we used to say back in the day) it will have you thinking about Phoenix for days afterward.
German born Nina Hoss shines as a woman torn between love and mistrust...between the past and the present...between the dark and the light.