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Review: Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2015)

It goes without saying that feasibility is not at the core of Christian Petzold’s latest feature. A whispering, noirish insight into a post world war relationship, it focuses more on the content of its riveting characters than the plausibility of the situation, crafting an inspired cloak and dagger romance.

“Phoenix’s dreamy, wartime imagery echoes Pan’s Labyrinth

The year is 1945, and as the Second World War draws to a close a Jewish singer is left with the brutal scars of her treatment in a concentration camp. Now, a significant facial reassignment operation renders her unrecognisable. During her time at the camp, she fought to see one man again: her husband. When she encounters him at the music bar in which they both worked, he doesn’t recognise her; making her an offer that shows he may not be the man she thought he was.

Nina Hoss takes the lead here as Nelly, a survivor physically and emotionally torn by her ordeal at the hands of the Nazi regime. Her fragility does not jump from the screen but paints it; washing over the viewer and making them the victim to this love tale too. She is nothing short of beguiling.

The demolished setting of post-war Berlin is almost half of Phoenix’s atmospheric presence. Paired with these performances, the architectural rubble and fading walls bring on a sense of claustrophobia, as if the walls of the camp still exist around Nelly even though her ordeal seems to be over. It is that claustrophobia that looms over Phoenix – into it’s final moments as the character’s understandings of each other struggle to become coherent.

At times, Phoenix’s dreamy, wartime imagery echoes the understandably superior Pan’s Labyrinth, guiding you through an often miasmic love story. It’s oppressive, twisted and by no means perfect; but by God it’s rather beautiful.

Phoenix is released in UK cinemas on Friday 8th May


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