The 2014 film, Phoenix, now available on Netflix streaming, stars the beautiful Nina Hoss as Nelly Lenz, a disfigured Nazi concentration camp survivor who gets a 'new' face by surgical reconstruction and who then searches for the truth about her husband Johnny, played by Ronald Zehrfeld, in the ruins of post WWII Berlin.
Director Christian Petzold creates a cinematic/ stage like setting in the movie, reminiscent of classical Greek tragedy style--cornered and desperate humans boxed in by chaos, ruin and the aftermath of war just always offstage. And although most of the drama is focused on the permanently changed relationships caused by horrible disaster in the lives of victims, Petzold does not hesitate to point his carefully steadied camera into the vast rubble of Berlin's demolished street life, highlighting the so-sad-it's-almost-comic absurdity in a cabaret piece by two ruby lipped, black haired vixen singers who take the stage one night in the Phoenix, the American sector night club where Nelly finds Johnny working as a janitor.
Before the war, Nelly was a popular singer throughout Europe, and Johnny was her pianist. Nina Kunzendorf plays Lene Winter, a pragmatic Jewess who loves and tries to protect Nelly from uncovering the truth, trying to convince her to forget the past and to move to the newly formed Israeli section of Palestine but Nelly is relentless in her tragic quest much like Homer who takes the long and winding road home after the Trojan War in the Odyssey. And like that classic tale, the final lap of the sojourn is wrought with pain, discovery, sorrow and fleeting moments of untenable delight with the hope that faith is truly the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not yet seen. And yet despite Nelly's unspoken belief in the power of love (and this is where brilliant directing and flawless acting meet), only tragedy can reveal truth through art and only the seemingly mystical power of the surviving human spirit can sing revelation into the darkest, unknowing mind clouded by selfishness. It's a beauty almost too painful to behold and, in the final scene, Petzold lets the camera show how, in fact, it cannot be clearly envisioned nor understood forever.
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