Phoenix

September 6, 2015 at 5:41 pm | Posted in 2015 | Leave a comment
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It has been a number of years since I have seen a film about World War II; they often just feel like they are telling some version of the same story over and over again. This one, however, was different. It could have easily taken place at any time in any number of places. WWII Germany was simply the backdrop for the story to play out on. Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) is returning home after having been imprisoned in Auschwitz. She was shot in the face and the plastic surgery has changed how she looks just enough that her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), does not recognize her. Or, rather, he is struck by how much this woman almost looks like his dead wife. Thus, the layers of subterfuge begin. He wants her to impersonate his wife so that she can claim the estate. So, Nelly pretends to be Esther pretending to be Nelly so that she can reconnect with her husband, in part to determine if he is the one who turned her over to the Nazis to begin with. The story can wind a bit slowly at times and often lacks the tension it could have easily had. But there is real humanity here. Nelly almost taunts Johnny to see who she really is but he has long accepted his wife’s death and cannot see past his defenses. The film is at times tender, with Hoss doing a fantastic job of playing a deeply traumatized person; the way she carried her body and every look on her face conveyed how haunted and diminished she was, which made the moment when she finally found her voice (quite literally), so thrilling. The film ends abruptly and without any resolution. I know this annoys some viewers but I loved it. It left the audience uneasy and unresolved, just like Nelly and Johnny were.

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