Sunday, 31 May 2015

Phoenix (4 Stars)

I'm always happy when a German film is shown in Birmingham. It doesn't happen often enough. When I heard that "Phoenix" was being shown at the Mac, a cinema specialising in foreign films, I was excited. I was even more excited when I found out that it stars Nina Hoss, one of my favourite actresses.

Nelly Lenz was a successful singer. She performed in London in the 1930's. In 1938 she returned to her home country, Germany. The problem was that she was considered to be a Jew. She didn't think of herself as a Jew, but in the eyes of the Nazi party anyone was a Jew who had at least one grandparent who was a practising Jew. She probably thought that marrying a German would make her a German, but it wasn't good enough. The authorities caught up with her. In 1944 she went into hiding in a boat house in Berlin, but the Gestapo found her and sent her to a concentration camp.

At the end of the war she is still alive, but her face is severely scarred from burns when the Nazis tried to destroy the camp and with it the last of the Jews. Nelly's best friend Lene, a fellow singer who had remained in London during the war, supports Nelly while she gets plastic surgery to repair her face. Together they travel to Berlin to set their affairs in order before emigrating to Palestine. Nelly says that she wants to look for her husband Johnny first. Lene warns Nelly that her husband might have been the one who betrayed her. There are hints that Lene might be in love with Nelly, although this isn't clearly stated. Nelly insists. She soon finds her husband working at a club called The Phoenix. Johnny doesn't recognise her, but he does think she bears a slight resemblance to his wife. Before Nelly can reveal who she is, Johnny tells her he wants her to impersonate his wife, because that's the only way he can get his hands on her inheritance. Nelly accepts, and she allows Johnny to buy her clothes and give her a makeover to look like his wife.

This is a very intense film, made darker by the lack of background music. Nina Hoss looks less attractive than she usually does, but this was necessary to make her look realistic as a battered refugee from a concentration camp. Once more, she delivers a stunning performance. I think I should watch a few of her films over the next few weeks.

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