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Petzold and Hoss rise again with Phoenix

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- German auteur Christian Petzold premiered his latest collaboration with muse Nina Hoss, Phoenix, at Toronto

Review

The continuing and fruitful collaboration between German director Christian Petzold and actress Nina Hoss shows no sign of slowing down in Phoenix [+see also:
trailer
making of
film focus
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
, their latest joint effort, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, currently under way.

Not counting television work, this is the pair’s fifth collaboration, which started in 2003 with Wolfsburg, and then continued with Yella [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Jerichow
 [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
and Barbara [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Christian Petzold
festival scope
film profile
]
– and now Phoenix. Their latest project centres on a mysterious Jewish woman, Nelly (Hoss), who survived the concentration camps but was severely disfigured during the war. Surgery, paid for by the money inherited from her many relatives who perished, makes the woman’s face look more or less normal again, though what Nelly really wants is for things to be exactly like they were before the war, and, like her face, things might be similar on the surface, but they’re really far from identical.

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The film is a chamber drama that develops amidst the ruins and rubble of a destroyed Berlin, and involves two opposing forces: Nelly’s desire to get back to normal and her husband’s desire to obtain her money, which he thinks he can manage to do when, believing Nelly to be dead, he meets her with a slightly different face and asks her to impersonate his “late” wife so he can claim her fortune.

The relationship between the two is, of course, a diabolical and very complex one, as here, too, Nelly (who says she’s called a different name as part of the charade) wants nothing more than to simply tell her husband (Ronald Zehrfeld, also from Barbara) that she’s alive and get back to the way things used to be; but the war has made him an opportunist who might even have had a hand in getting his Jewish wife arrested.

Thus, what emerges is a suspenseful, Hitchcockian drama about doubles, à la Vertigo, though the crucial setting of the immediate post-war era makes it as much a drama about the much larger and often intensely ugly ramifications of German socio-political history as it is a story of personal desires. As usual, Petzold’s camera and direction have a quicksilver quality to them that highlights ambiguities at every turn.

This Schramm Film Koerner & Weber production will next travel to the San Sebastian Film Festival and will be released in Germany on 25 September by Piffl Medien

photogallery

international title: Phoenix
original title: Phoenix
country: Germany
sales agent: The Match Factory
year: 2014
directed by: Christian Petzold
screenplay: Christian Petzold
cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Michael Maertens, Nina Kunzendorf, Uwe Preuss, Eva Bay

main awards/selection

Festival Internazionale del Film di Roma 2014Gala
Festival du Film d'Amour de Mons 2015International Competition
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