Thursday, September 10, 2015

[Review] Phoenix

Director Christian Petzold brings on this Hitchcockian tale set in post-World War II Germany.

Nelly (Nina Hoss) is a concentration camp survivor, but her face has been disfigured by a bullet wound, so she undergoes reconstructive surgery. During the recovery process, her head is thickly wrapped in bandages, and the imagery and mood is reminiscent of that Twilight Zone episode "The Eye of the Beholder".

After the bandage removal, she unsurprisingly emerges looking significantly different from before, but it's to the point where her former husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) doesn't even recognize her. He reveals himself to be quite a nasty fellow, so Nelly decides to keep her identity a secret as she attempts to find out if Johnny actually was the one that betrayed her to the Nazis.

The film is a little slow-moving early on, but once the mystery takes hold, this turns into an intriguingly complex tale of deception, especially as Nelly infiltrates her husband's schemes. She's hindered by dilemmas and the uncomfortable shock of the situation--her being in the presence of a man she once loved and him attempting to manipulate her without knowing who she is.

It's so excellently acted on all sides, wallowing amidst the dark and depressed streets of a ravaged nation. Nelly's face navigates in and out of the shadows, like a walking illusion--vulnerable and weary, but also with an upper hand. Even though the duration is only about 96 minutes, Phoenix will test some viewers' patience during certain stretches, but the ending is quite the "in your face!" moment.


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