July 24th, 2015



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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.

Release Year: 2014

Rating: 7.2/10 (2,796 voted)

Critic's Score: 92/100

Director: Christian Petzold

Stars: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf

Nelly Lenz, a Jewish singer, has survived the Nazi concentration camps but at what cost? She is disfigured and has had to undergo facial surgery. Back in what is left of Berlin, accompanied by her faithful friend Lene, she has only one thing in mind, finding Johnny, her musician husband in the ruins of the city. She wants to know if he still loves her and if he has betrayed her, as Lene claims he has. She does meet him but Johnny does not recognize her. Worse, he asks her to impersonate... Nelly, with a view to grabbing her inheritance

Writers: Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki

Nina Hoss - Nelly Lenz
Ronald Zehrfeld - Johannes 'Johnny'
Nina Kunzendorf - Lene Winter
Michael Maertens - Arzt
Imogen Kogge - Elisabeth
Kirsten Block -
Uwe Preuss - Clubbesitzer
Eva Bay - Tänzerin
Jeff Burrell -
Sofia Exss - Zigarettenmädchen
Megan Gay - Mitarbeiterin Zentralstelle
Claudia Geisler-Bading - Frederike
Daniela Holtz - Sigrid
Max Hopp -
Nikola Kastner - Junge Frau


Official Website: Official site [Japan]

Country: Germany, Poland

Language: German, English

Release Date: 24 July 2015

Filming Locations: Kirchmöser, Brandenburg an der Havel, Brandenburg, Germany

Technical Specs


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User Review


Rating: 9/10

Will the references to Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo never end? A very blatant citation is in David Lynch's Twin Peaks, with Sheryl Lee playing both blonde victim Laura Palmer and her cousin, brunette doppelganger Madeleine. Before and after that, there have been several instances, some more successful than others.

Christian Petzold's glorious war drama, "Phoenix", falls firmly into the first category.

Disfigured Jewish musician Nelly Lenz (the ever luminous Nina Hoss) has to undergo a painful facial reconstruction, after having survived the horror of the concentration camps.

Helped by close friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), Nelly slowly comes back to life, but her main goal is to find her beloved husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld).

We are at the end of World War II and Berlin is nothing but a heap of rubble. People roam the streets aimlessly and, among the destruction and the uncertainty, there is a sense of a nation having lost its identity.

Nelly looks at herself in a mirror and sees a stranger and when Lene tells her "You're Jewish", as if to assert at least one undeniable truth, Nelly refuses to accept it. The only thing that tethers her to reality is the love for her lost husband and she stumbles on him by chance, working as a busboy at the Phoenix cabaret. He doesn't recognise her, but acknowledges a passing resemblance to his allegedly dead wife. Nelly is heartbroken, but doesn't have the courage to reveal the truth.

Johannes (who is not Jewish and no longer wants to be called Johnny) knows that his wife has an unclaimed fortune in a Swiss bank, so he devises a plan – and here's the Vertigo nod – to transform this stranger into his dead wife. Nelly agrees to the plan, hoping that by living at such close quarters, he will eventually discover her real identity. He doesn't.

Even when it becomes quite evident that, as Lene suggested, he'd betrayed her to the Nazis, Nelly keeps her side of the bargain, growing more confident as she resumes her former identity, as she struggles to be the woman she no longer is.

The finale is powerful and moving: I won't reveal it, but I'll just say that it involves a tattoo and a Kurt Weill song. It will stay with you long after the words "the end".

The premise of "Phoenix" is obviously rather far fetched, but the acting, cinematography and direction are all stunning and I am quite surprised the film has not been more widely praised (I was expecting it to get an Oscar nod).

Nina Hoss, who is a Petzold regular and was great in "Barbara", gives a career-best performance, fine-tuning the metamorphosis of the character from haggard and desperate concentration camp victim to brittle, yet strong and confident survivor. A real Phoenix, rising from the ashes of a past that can no longer be recreated.

Ronald Zehrfeld, who also starred in "Barbara", is wonderful as Johannes, a man whose refusal to see what's in front of his eyes is steadfast at first, but slowly crumbles as the film unfolds, and finally collapses in an emotional reveal that the actor depicts with understated emotional mastery.

But the real star of the film is the director, the fantastic Christian Petzold, who has crafted a moving, intelligent and unforgettable story, one that never tries to cheaply tug at your heartstrings.

Regardless of his historical setting, it's a universal tale that tells of how we all strive for identity and meaning and of how, in the face of the worst possible betrayal, we can still find the strength to turn the page and start over a new chapter in our lives.


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