Movie review of “Phoenix”: This fascinating film about occupied 1940s Berlin follows a Jewish Holocaust survivor who, scarred almost beyond recognition, establishes a new identity. Rating: 3 stars out of 4.
One of the more intriguing imports at this year’s Seattle International Film Festival, “Phoenix” marks the sixth collaboration between German director Christian Petzold and his leading actress, Nina Hoss.
Their previous (and also outstanding) collaboration, “Barbara,” dealt with East Germany in the 1980s. “Phoenix” is set in mid-1940s occupied Berlin, as its determined heroine, Nelly Lenz, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, rises from the ashes of World War II to establish a new identity.
Scarred almost beyond recognition, she is reconstructed physically to resemble her former self. In scenes that recall “Eyes Without a Face,” “Pygmalion” and “Cabaret,” you may not buy all the story twists, but perhaps the script is not meant to be taken literally.
Movie Review ★★★
‘Phoenix,’ with Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld. Directed by Christian Petzold, from a screenplay by Petzold and Harun Farocki. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief suggestive material. In German, with English subtitles. SIFF Cinema Uptown.
Petzold told one interviewer that “people who ask those questions don’t like movies.”
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Like a Douglas Sirk melodrama, Petzold’s film thrives on outrageous moments. So do his actors, especially Hoss, with her fairy-tale-like role as a sad beast gradually turned into a beauty again, and Ronald Zehrfeld as her ex-husband, Johnny Lenz, who comes up with a scheme to exploit her situation.
Does she go along with it, or does she have her own plans? “Phoenix” keeps you guessing for a surprisingly long chunk of its running time.