Phoenix - Review

PG-13  |  98 min  |  Drama, History
Review - Matt Mungle

**In select theaters and Angelika Film Center in Dallas and Plano August 7th*

Language: German w/ English subtitles

Synopsis: A disfigured concentration-camp survivor (Nina Hoss), unrecognizable after facial reconstruction surgery, searches ravaged postwar Berlin for the husband (Ronald Zehrfeld) who might have betrayed her to the Nazis.

Review:  This romantic story of mystery and drama is a decent attempt at intrigue but too often it just simply a mediocre narrative. Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) is lucky to be a live and wants to connect with the one person left alive that she loves; her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld). The rumors that he is the one who turned her in to the Nazi's does not discourage her from seeking him out. The characters and plot points should have made this a stellar film. But the writing by Christian Petzold and Harun Farocki never breaks free from the confines of insecurity.

The screenplay is adapted from the novel "Le Retour des cendres" by Hubert Monteilhet which was probably more compelling in print. I doubt the characters drifted around as lost and removed on the pages of the book the way they do on the screen. Plus the plot holes and "convenient scenarios" make the outcome unbelievable. Viewers should (if they are paying attention) shake their heads and look at each other as if to say, "umm that is not how that would play out". And I am not talking about the actual ending but the events and unveiling's that lead up to the hum drum conclusion.

I am always quick to point out when actors are not to blame for the meandering of their roles. And here it is important to note that both Hoss and Zehrfeld deliver stellar performances. What is lacking the lines they were given and the direction of Christian Petzold - who also wrote it, remember? When you are unable to improve on your own script by how you direct it may be just cause to reevaluate the entire thing.

Again the concept is top notch and I can see why the film was made. This idea of a woman escaping a concentration-camp, taking on a new identity, and then engaging her unknowing husband is catchy and unique. I give this rendering only 2 out of 5 nose jobs. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and brief suggestive material there is nothing objectionable in this one. It is certainly written and themed for those who like art house foreign films. Which I am one of. That is why I judge this one as critical as I do. It could have and should have been so much better.

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