‘Phoenix’ a dark and moody post-WWII exploration of identity

Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016 11:24 AM

The history of World War II has been well-documented cinematically. But “Phoenix” takes a unique perspective – that of a Holocaust survivor who returns to Germany.

Upon returning from Auschwitz, former cabaret singer Nelly Lenz undergoes reconstructive facial surgery to mend a bullet wound. She emerges looking like a different woman, and in the process, begins to lose her identity. Seeking to return to her past life, Nelly attempts to reunite with her husband, a man who might have sold her out to the Nazis in the first place.

Nina Hoss, who plays Nelly, is the best part of the film. She subtly captures not only the anguish of someone just released from a concentration camp, but also a woman trying to recapture a sense of who she is. Nina Kunzendorf, who portrays Lene, a Jewish file clerk who sets Nelly on her path, also conveys a great deal of emotion with seemingly very little effort.

The title, “Phoenix,” comes from a cabaret club in which part of the film is set, but it is also symbolic of the film’s central theme – people rising out of the ashes of war. In addition to Nelly, each character is trying himself or herself to survive in the new world. This applies to the setting, Berlin, as well, here presented in a pulpy, noir-influenced, but still realistically grim way.

The actual plot of “Phoenix” is paper-thin and doesn’t stand up to much scrutiny, but it’s also not the most important part of the film. The movie is worth watching for the exploration of its characters’ psyches and its moody, haunting depiction of post-war Berlin. Nick Gonzales is one of The Durango Herald newsroom’s resident film buffs. He welcomes movie recommendations. Follow him on Twitter @lackingzones.


Rating: PG-13

Genre: Drama

Language: German

Directed by: Christian Petzold

Written by: Christian Petzold

Release: 2015

Available on: Netflix, iTunes, Amazon

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“Phoenix” explores its characters’ psyches in post-war Berlin.