For Reel

Phoenix (2014)
September 7, 2015, 12:32 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,

Director: Christian Petzold
5 Stars
PhoenixThe pivotal location of Christian Petzold’s new masterpiece is the Phoenix night club that gives the film its title. A bright, intense red glow on a street that has been otherwise reduced to rubble, the entrance seems like a door into another world, an image straight from a fantasy novel. Its unreality is matched by Petzold’s own embrace of coincidence and other devices associated with melodrama. If the plot–involving a newly transformed woman (Nina Hoss) pretending to be herself at the behest of her oblivious husband (Ronald Zehrfeld)–seems rooted in pulpiness, it is. But Petzold pays such great care to the emotional stakes at hand that one is left only admiring the confidence and precision of the storytelling. There’s a simple devastation in watching Hoss fail at her own self-mimicry–when her husband tells her that her “performance” isn’t authentic, one wonders if he is simply delusional or if she literally cannot be the woman that she was before the war. In the brilliant final act, there’s an unforgettable play of authorship, where the husband describes with accurate detail what the unveiling of his wife will be like before he is challenged by her own imposed will. It’s a striking, low-key finale, forgoing the hysterics that one might have expected. She is reborn from the ashes, indignantly disregarding the fire that caused them.

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