What To Watch Thursday: Phoenix

What To Watch Thursday: Phoenix

Mar 26, 2015 |  by  |  Art
About the author
Born in London and raised in Tokyo, Julian (27) is a film programmer, researcher and writer based in Amsterdam. He is a member of the short film selection committee at International Film Festival Rotterdam. Tweets @rossjulian

What To Watch Thursday is Overdose’s weekly film injection: every Thursday we will tell you which cinematographic pearls can’t be missed! We’ll review a film that’s definitely worth your while…

Anticipation: The decades-long collaboration between actress Nina Hoss (A Most Wanted Man) and director Christian Petzold (Oscar-nominated Barbara) has proven to be a range of highlights of contemporary German cinema. The latest and sixth work from the director-actress duo arrives with high expectation after screenings at TIFF and IFFR.

Appreciation: Set in Berlin in the immediate post-WWII years, the period (psycho)drama Phoenix tells a tale of a woman rising from the ashes of war facing a renewal tainted by the past. Written in collaboration with the formidable artist Harun Farocki (1944-2014), the adaptation of Hubert Monteilhet’s French 1961 novel Le Retour des cendres is a powerful political allegory on the irrevocability of certain acts. After being disfigured by a gunshot wound, Auschwitz survivor Nelly (Nina Hoss) undergoes plastic surgery to reclaim her identity. She locates her husband Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld of Barbara) at cabaret club Phoenix, but he fails to recognise her – a relationship ensues that oozes of sexual tension and confusion. Recalling classics by Georges Franju (Eyes Without a Face) and Hiroshi Teshigahara (The Face of Another), the face transplant metaphor may appear facile but what follows is a dark and twisted drama with knotted emotions.

The measured pace of Petzold’s post-Berlin School days are something of the past; tight and compact, the film hits the notes and moves along. While the film may push the boundaries of believability, it is testament to the sincerity in acting and the precision in directing that we are swept along. Twisting into noir territory with some dizzying Vertigo, Petzold’s characteristic genre-bending is at its most accessible yet.


Length: 98 min
Verdict: ★★★★ – Compact and tightly delivered
Where to see: Kriterion, Cinecenter, De Balie and Het Ketelhuis

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