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article imageReview: ‘Phoenix’ is a compelling mystery and uneasy love story Special

By Sarah Gopaul     May 12, 2015 in Entertainment
‘Phoenix’ takes a dual meaning when a woman is reincarnated after a disfiguring incident and finds her estranged husband employed at a nightclub of the same name.
There comes a point in some people’s lives when the only answer is reinvention — whether by choice or forced circumstance. But starting over isn’t always easy. Shedding relationships, changing locations and creating a new life are difficult tasks. However, it’s made somewhat more or less complicated if one is also able to completely change his or her appearance. In some cases, being unrecognizable can be a blessing. In Phoenix, a woman’s altered looks provides an unexpected opportunity to discover the truth.
Nelly (Nina Hoss) survived her captivity in a concentration camp, but just barely. After her release, she required extensive facial reconstructive surgery. In spite of the singer’s request to look as she did before the incident, her new, natural appearance is unrecognizable. As she tries to come to terms with the deaths of her entire family during the Holocaust, she must also confront the possibility that her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), betrayed her to the Nazis. Learning he works nearby, Nelly sets out to find him and hear his side of the story. But when Johnny doesn’t recognize her, she uses her new anonymity to get close to him again and uncover his real intentions.
The narrative is a mystery that is magnified by its own exclusion of information. The film cuts away from several scenes in the beginning of the picture just before something is about to be revealed. This approach hooks viewers, maintaining their interest as Nelly investigates Johnny’s involvement in her imprisonment. Nothing about how the story unfolds is straightforward, dropping tidbits of new information viewers must piece together. By the end they’re still left guessing what Nelly’s final act will be based on the evidence she’s gathered.
The performances are excellent. Hoss’ authenticity inspires frustration; Nelly’s determination to prove Johnny’s loyalty in spite of all of her best friend’s (Nina Kunzendorf) warnings is exasperating. On top of that, the sacrifices she continues to make for him seem absurd. For his part, Zehrfeld effectively portrays an enigma. Johnny keeps his cards close to his chest, never revealing whether or not he’s an absolute villain. Together they express an awkwardness that represents both Johnny’s unfamiliarity and Nelly’s lingering doubt.
Director: Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld and Nina Kunzendorf
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