Germany’s leading screen actress Nina Hoss plays Nelly, a concentration camp survivor in Phoenix *** (15), a film with her frequent director Christian Petzold.
Nelly begins the film undergoing reconstructive surgery having been shot in the face and left for dead by the SS. On her return to the cabaret clubs of bombed out Berlin, she seeks her pianist husband Johnny, who doesn’t recognise her.
However, he does concoct a mean plan to extract his (he assumes) dead wife’s money using this wandering waif whom, he concedes, does resemble Nelly.
It’s a great idea and Petzold gets the confusion and simmering ruin of Berlin. Hoss is always wonderful to watch and she’s excellent again here, a jumble of motives, physical frailties and inner strength.
But there’s no doubt this mysterious and original movie strains the credulity in places and leaves us with more questions than we began with, perhaps demonstrating – and this might be its point – that Germany still cannot come to understanding what happened on its soil 70 years ago.