Set to the back drop of a bombed out, post-war Berlin, ‘Phoenix’ is the story of a Jewish lady, Nelly, a concentration camp survivor whose simple quest is to be reunited with her husband, Johnny. His whereabouts she remains unsure of, or whether he is even still alive for that matter. To add to the intrigue, Nelly’s facial disfigurement, a legacy from her time in Auschwitz, means that following substantial reconstructive surgery, she physically no longer resembles the woman she once was.
We are never given any pictorial evidence of Nelly’s prior facial look, so director Christian Petzold assumes our faith that she genuinely no longer resembles Nelly from the past. This is a serious point to bear in mind throughout.
Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), is Nelly’s Jewish friend whose good intentions have led her to drive Nelly back to Berlin in order that she may briefly rest, heal and recuperate from all that she has been through. She informs her of her impending large inheritance and proposes that they both relocate to Tel Aviv to be part of the formation of a new Jewish state in the Palestine; Nelly’s mind however is unshakeably drawn towards a reconciliation with her husband, much to Lene’s disapproval and chagrin. There’s clearly an inconvenient truth that’s not being told and Lene is determined that Nelly should not hear it.
Nelly does find Johnny, but all is not as it was and so begins an unlikely reunion between the two; one which serves as a true wake-up call for Nelly, putting to the test her faith in people and their true intentions.
Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld are convincing in their roles as Nelly and Johnny respectively, but the film is at times a little slow in its development. That said, it’s generally a well realised and put together tale and definitely worth staying with for its genuinely powerful finale; one that sticks long in the memory.
Worth a watch.