Film Review: PHOENIX

Written and Directed by Christian Petzold
Starring: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf
German Language Film

It is 1945 Berlin, and Nelly, a Jewish cabaret singer, returns from a concentration camp where she has been shot in the face. Her friend, Lene, helps her make her way to a surgeon who reconstructs her face. Although Nellie asks to have her original face restored, he is not quite able to do this. As soon as Nelly is well, she begins to  haunt the streets of Berlin, looking for her husband, Johnny. She finds him in a cabaret called Phoenix. Johnny doesn’t recognize her but sees a resemblance to his wife, who he believes to be dead. He hatches the idea that Esther (Nelly) will impersonate his dead wife and win her inheritance, which they will share. He coaches her on how to be herself.

This is a tense, complex film that will delight viewers who allow themselves the luxury of a settling into a good story, fine acting, great atmosphere and superlative direction. But it leaves it up to the viewer to fill in some of the back story, to not need every i dotted. Bearing a resemblance to films like VERTIGO and EYES WITHOUT A FACE, it is haunting from start to finish. And I guarantee you will never hear the song SPEAK LOW without thinking of PHOENIX.
Highly recommended.

Patti Abbott
In addition to being the Crimespree Senior Film Critic, Patti has penned numerous short stories and her debut novel, CONCRETE ANGEL, is in stores now. She hosts a look at Forgotten Books every Friday with readers, writers and reviewers at She hopes you’ll join in.