Phoenix Screen 34 articles



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  • The final scene struck me as cowardly, a single sour note held at the expense of character, but maybe I refused to let myself accept the idea that, after all the film’s low-key tension, Petzold was content to enjoy watching a deplorable person squirm and a good person triumph. I remain mystified, however, by Petzold’s growing stature, which I submit may have something to do with the contrast between the classicism of his work and modern festival trends.

  • Petzold achieves a narrow but evocative realism on a slender budget, but the narrowness extends to his characters as well. His pristine academicism illustrates the story without deepening or internalizing it. The script is dosed out in spoonfuls of dialogue that take the place of visual conception or symbolic resonance, and the lack of directorial style renders the story all the less plausible.

  • Still don't think this works terribly well in terms of character and psychology (and Johnny's plan to get his hands on Nelly's money still makes about as much sense as Key's bank-robbery scheme), but its metaphorical weight hit me significantly harder on second viewing.

  • The plot alone would probably make this latest effort worthy enough, but it’s the masterly craftsmanship and performances that reveal Petzold to be at the top of his game, slowly but surely building his narrative towards an absolute knockout of a finale. Why Phoenix wasn’t in Cannes or Venice (no offense, Toronto) is anyone’s guess, as this quietly devastating work deserves to be seen by the widest art house audience possible.

  • ...The best film I’ve seen so far at TIFF, and one of the best new movies I’ve seen this year. A kind of cross between Black Book and The Skin I Live In—though nowhere near as outrageous as either...

  • Truly elevating the pulpy source material, Petzold swirls the pot of suspense, revenge and guilt with not only a Hitchcockian but also a Fassbinderian touch. Films don’t get more psychologically complex than this, which was inexplicably rejected by both Cannes and Venice in favour of who the hell knows what.

  • The lean, efficient engine of the film runs on petrol made of film history. Petzold, who collaborated with the late Harun Farocki on the screenplay, with supreme, clean simplicity reveals the history behind cinema's images and its genres, so that the amnesia films, the noir films, the new-identity films suddenly grow ashen in the light of Phoenix.

  • [An] expertly crafted deft post-Holocaust melodrama about a camp survivor with a disfigured face who reunites with her husband who thought her dead. TheVertigo-esque twist? He doesn’t know it’s her, but slowly tries to make her become his ‘late’ wife. It’s a very sharp examination of a person’s loss of identity after severe trauma, that links acts of forgetting and pretending to Post-War Germany’s cultural consciousness.

  • Where [Vertigo] is, above all, a meditation on the painful, personal process of creating art, Petzold’s drama, set in Berlin in the immediate aftermath of World War II, is really only partly about cinema, or artistic representation more generally. Like Godard’s bifurcated treatment of “La Nature” and “La Métaphore” in Goodbye to Language (or the overriding themes in his monumental Histoire(s) du Cinema), Phoenix is about the literally unspeakable in the history of the twentieth century.

  • Co-written with the late Harun Farocki, it is a precisely and exquisitely crafted chamber piece, resonant and gripping, softly building up to a stunning finale.

  • Artifice is everything, the woman with an artificial face called on to be an actress (hubby is her director), finally reconciling real and artificial through her own art (the singing) and the incontrovertible fact of the number on her forearm. The first step to making sense of the past is to face it honestly, unclouded by artifice (unclouded by love) - then move on, to an out-of-focus future.

  • Phoenix is quite simply a perfectly conceived and structured film, balancing narrative suspense and thematic complexity without tipping over into either cliché or convolution. It’s also this congenitally referential German director’s most virtuosic display of allusive cinephilia to date, enfolding no less than three classic film noirs into its action.

  • While some viewers grumbled about suspension of disbelief, I found the story an uncanny and pointed expression of postwar alienation for survivors, especially those pressed to cope with the past by forgetting it.

  • It’s this clashing of ideologies and coping strategies that interests Petzold the most... Because Petzold is such a gifted storyteller, with the lean, driving narrative sense of the film noir masters, he keeps those twists and turns chugging smoothly along, building to a climax so expertly orchestrated that one imagines he started with it in mind and worked the rest of the movie backward from there.

  • On paper, it seems absurd, like many of the American genre films that inspired both Petzold and Farocki, but on screen, it's executed with a surprising verisimilitude.

  • Phoenix marks not only an apotheosis of Petzold’s career-long examination of memory in relation to national cataclysm, but also a critique of the mind-easing revisionism offered by mainstream depictions of genocidal oppression, whether serious (Schindler’s List) or facetious (Django Unchained).

  • The intricacies of identity merge with the horrors of the Holocaust in director Christian Petzold's devastating Phoenix, a typically ambiguous study on whether recovery is something that can be performed. Steeped in film history, yet never in thrall to it, Petzold's melodrama is a paean to the power of artifice, daringly shunning realism to find unlikely new angles on this most painfully real of subjects.

  • Building a new self from scraps and ruins, trying to remake herself in her own image, choosing a reflected simulacrum over the loneliness of remaining proud and whole. A post-war parable in the Rossellini tradition, with the fate of an entire nation reflected in the eyes of one badly damaged character.

  • Ardent, urgent, and smoldering, Phoenix seems to have sprung directly from the songwriters' coded poetry... Phoenix doesn't need to trade in metaphors to have meaning: Petzold is content to explore the possibilities of traditional melodrama, and he turns up vast emotional riches. The director's last film was the superb 2012 Barbara, also starring Hoss and Zehrfeld, another romance with a mystery built in; Phoenix is an even finer piece of work, so beautifully made that it comes close to perfect.

  • On its face, the premise of Phoenix, that plastic surgery in the 1940s could be so advanced as to give a woman an unrecognizable yet flawless new face, is patently absurd. But its symbolic properties open up the film to new dimensions, ones made yet more intriguing by the film’s oneiric forays into night spaces where highly chromatic lighting and classic noir blocking and editing send the film itself back into the 1940s.

  • Cinephiles will spot echoes ranging from (most obviously) “Vertigo” to “Eyes Without a Face,” but Petzold’s take on these themes is unique, and Hoss and Zehrfeld are magnificent actors. The final fade-out will haunt you for a long time.

  • In one of the film’s slyest and subtlest conceits, the more [Nelly] enacts this false return to her “true” self, the further away she gets from the person she once was. And this is the key to Nina Hoss’s magnificent, tremulous performance: at every moment, she appears as though she’s emotionally freefalling, meanwhile feverishly sorting through layers of meaning and truth about herself, her husband, and her home country.

  • There’s no point in explaining where all of this goes. But Petzold is in command of it. By the time you know what he’s up to, the movie’s over, and you’re in a stupor. The ending’s brilliantly abrupt. Petzold continues the German tradition of melodrama that Rainer Werner Fassbinder took up during his peak, in the 1970s and ’80.

  • To watch Phoenix is to be put in the position of an investigator analyzing the psychological import of the most microscopic of gestures. Historical insight and cinematic sophistication, coexisting in a tight bind that puts neither on a platform, rarely synchronize with such tremendous grace.

  • Hoss, the director’s longtime muse and one of the finest actors working in cinema today, effectively uses her eyes, mouth, hands, torso, posture, and movements to differentiate [Nelly and Esther], to convey not only each of them separately, but also the transitional phases that are part Nelly, part Esther.

  • Rather than being about revenge, Phoenix is about denial: from its surreal premise (a man who cannot recognize his own wife), through its poignant unfolding (a woman who cannot admit the truth about her husband’s motivation), to its disturbing denouement (a world that masks the horror of the camps with the idealized image of a returned survivor). It’s not the film but the characters who live immersed in fantasies. Phoenix is simply the space where all these fantasies intertwine.

  • Phoenix is so strong in its particulars that by the time the final scene comes (and it is a doozy) you have been waiting for something like this, hoping for something like this, the tension of Hoss’ performance is so great, with its silent quivering unbearable withholding … and yet the reality of the final moment, as it unfolds, as Hoss and Zehrfeld perform it, what actually happens, in other words, is far more powerful and heart-stopping than anything you or I could dream up.

  • Together, [Hoss and Petzold] have one of the most intuitive, mutually inquisitive director-star collaborations going in contemporary cinema. It says much for their joint oeuvre that Phoenix isn’t their finest hour, for it’s still a very fine hour (and 38 minutes) indeed.

  • Christian Petzold’s Phoenix is a powerful reminder that we all face the world in more ways than one. Emphatically predicated on the power of the visage, Phoenix underscores the extent to which the human countenance simultaneously grants a sense of personal identity-cum-integrity and the means to communicate this publicly: our individual features are a present that allows us to present ourselves to other people.

  • The film is in a way a homage to Rainer Werner Fassbinder, not only due to its visual excess (which is to be attributed to Hans Fromm’s captivating cinematography) and the melodramatic tropes, but also because Ronald Zehrfeld’s striking physical resemblance to theenfant terrible of New German Cinema. The film also includes echoes of Liliana Cavani’s masterpiece The Night Porter. Nina Hoss’ performance as Nelly is mesmerising.

  • Seemingly self-deluded, the heroine delivers a coup de grâce that, despite its subtlety, still sears as an indictment of a nation's pathologies.

  • I didn’t see a better performance in 2015 than the one Nina Hoss delivers in Christian Petzold’s spellbinding noir melodrama, a peak achievement in one of the most remarkable director-actor pairings in recent movies. As a Holocaust survivor searching for answers amid the rubble of a bombed-out Berlin, Hoss reshapes her character’s face into a scarred canvas of pain and political meaning.

  • Classical form in cinema still has its uses. Petzold’s survivor tragedy tells a story that’s squalid and irrational in equal measure, and tells it with measured, masterly detachment. Killer ending.

  • Past intersects with present like needle pulling thread; Hitchcock crosses paths with Fassbinder; gaze is met with unseeing gaze. Countries, marriages, human beings: any whole that’s come asunder, says Phoenix, must first endure fire if it’s going to be rebuilt.

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