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Film Review: "Phoenix"


German director Christian Petzold's atmospheric noir drama, "Phoenix," centers around concentration camp survivor Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss, in a magnificent performance), whose brutal experiences have left her disfigured. With the aid of her loyal friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), Nelly is brought to Berlin to receive reconstructive surgery, a procedure which is a success but leaves her looking only vaguely similar to the woman she once was.

Against Lene's wishes, Nelly wants nothing more than to find her husband, Johnny (despite evidence he may have betrayed her to the Nazis). She eventually does locate him, introducing herself as Esther, though Johnny immediately notices her striking resemblance to his deceased wife. Shades of "Vertigo" creep in as Johnny hatches a plan to remake Esther in Nelly's image, asking her to impersonate his wife (herself, in effect) so that together they can claim her inheritance. Though the intricacies of the plot don't always hold together, the psychological and emotional fallout of their twisted reunion is absolutely riveting, and the devastating ending is damn near perfect.