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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Movie Review - Phoenix

Phoenix (2015)
Starring Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, and Nina Kunzendorf
Directed by Christian Petzold
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

German film Phoenix details the story of Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss), a Holocaust survivor who returns to Germany after being horribly disfigured by the Nazis.  With the help of friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), Nelly undergoes reconstructive surgery which alters her appearance somewhat which worries Nelly because she has been told that her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) is still alive.  Desperate to find her husband again, Nelly refuses to believe Lene's assertions that Johnny turned his own wife over to the Nazis in an attempt to save himself, so Nelly sets out in search of Johnny and successfully finds him at a cabaret bar named Phoenix.  The ever-conniving Johnny doesn't recognize Nelly, but believes that she bears resemblance to his presumed dead wife, so he asks Nelly (who has told her husband her name is Esther) to "play" his wife in order to get the inheritance Nelly is owed due to her dead relatives.  The question then remains did Johnny actually deceive his wife and send her to the concentration camps or was Lene incorrect in her assumption.

The problem I have with Phoenix is that the plot is a whole lot more interesting in theory than it actually appears onscreen.  There's a tension that comes even from just reading that storyline above that should feel resonant in the film, but it's simply not there.  Part of that stems from Nina Hoss's portrayal of Nelly as an incredibly quiet and weak woman.  While I'm not faulting Hoss -- surely, a Holocaust survivor would feel torn down and diminished -- her meek demeanor oddly made the film difficult for me to become invested.  I readily admit that it should've worked as I found her character's actions and emotions totally believable, but for some reason it failed to pull me in.  Perhaps it's the all-around gloominess of the piece coupled with the bleakness of the main character, but Phoenix doesn't hit the mark for me despite an intriguing premise for a story.

The RyMickey Rating:  C-

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