PHOENIX (2015)

"Life After Auschwitz"

Content: -2 Discretion advised for adults.

What You Need To Know:

PHOENIX is a German drama with elements of film-noir. It’s a heart-wrenching story about a former concentration camp survivor named Nelly. After Nelly returns home, she sets out to find her former husband, Johnny. When she finds him, Johnny only sees a woman who looks striking similar to his former wife. As Nelly is forced to relearn about the woman she used to be, she discovers the man she married might not be who she thought he was.

PHOENIX takes on some moral qualities where the heroine strives to find truth, love and loyalty in her former life. Nelly is faithful to her husband, but as the plot progresses the negative Nazi influence overpowers her in the end. Through the use of dim lighting choices, repetitive shots of a grim city and flashes to the hopeless nightclub, the movie implies all is lost because man is corrupt and beyond redemption. Despite a beautifully written screenplay, told in a poetic fashion, the movie seems too much like a play. Eventually, the story in PHOENIX is overcome by the movie’s rather hopeless, humanist worldview.


(HH, B, C, Ho, L, V, S, AA, D, MM) Humanist worldview overcomes the movie’s moral, redemptive elements with no references to God, the church or prayer to rise above the desperation depicted, which seems to conclude man is flawed but even God can’t save him, in a story about one woman’s search to regain a sense of the world after surviving a concentration camp during the Holocaust, with subtle moral, redemptive elements including feelings of hope, love and loyalty toward wife’s former husband, but a dark secret is revealed about husband’s past actions during World War II, plus some lesbian implications involving a side character who invites heroine to come to Israel with her; two obscenities or profanities; no gratuitous violence, but one scene where husband and wife physically fight with pushing and forceful shoving; no depicted sex but women dance on stage flirtatiously but fully clothed in long gowns; no nudity; light drunkenness displayed in a nightclub, men and women drink at a bar; smokers depicted in a nightclub and around bars; and, husband encourages his former wife to lie about who she is to fulfill his greed for money, and she goes along with it and betrayal revealed.

More Detail:

PHOENIX is a German film noir about a Holocaust survivor from Auschwitz in search of her husband. The movie’s somewhat hopeless humanist worldview overcomes its moral, redemptive elements when the heroine just resigns herself to some dreadful news about a dark secret.

Nelly (Nina Hoss), a former German-Jewish nightclub singer, has just returned from Auschwitz, where she survived a brutal concentration camp. After a deadly bullet wound that almost demolished her face, she’s forced to undergo reconstructive facial surgery. After the surgery, she wanders to the former nightclub where she worked to find her husband, Johnny. While she dreams of a happy reunion with her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) looks right past her, unaware that the survivor is his wife.

When Nelly approaches Johnny, he notices this woman looks strikingly similar to his former wife, so he devises a plan to secure Nelly’s inheritance by pretending this woman is Nelly, aloof to the fact it is her. Nelly, horrified by his plan yet desperate to be near her husband, agrees to go along with it as she falls into a dangerous game of disguise, seeking to find out if Johnny is the one who betrayed her to the Nazis.

As Nelly tries to make sense of her new life, she can’t shake the past. With her husband having no recognition of her, she begins to lose site of herself. She finds comfort through her friend Lene (Nina Kunzendorf), a no-nonsense lawyer with a kind spirit. Lene begs Nelly to come with her and start a new life together, but Nelly can’t shake the desire she feels to be near her former husband. She continues to play the game with Johnny learning to be his wife, her former self. She moves in with him, where he gives her Nelly’s clothes, shoes and former grocery lists, conveying a time when their love might have been real.

As Nelly grows closer to Johnny, she slowly drifts away from Lene. Lene, the valiant lawyer, sends a suicide note to Nelly, showing her internal weakness despite a tough exterior. After Lene’s death, Nelly begins to believe all is lost, and she will never be able to rise above her traumatic experiences in Auschwitz. This notion conveys the barbaric influence the Nazis had on society. Through their harsh treatment towards the Jewish people, they provide few redemptive elements, implying man is corrupt at the core.

As time passes, Nelly begins to think Johnny did betray her to the Nazis. Deeply hurt by this notion, she drifts between a place of hopelessness between her dark past and uncertain future. While Nelly begins to transform into the appearance of her old self with dyed hair, makeup and clothes, will she ever discover the truth?

PHOENIX is shot like a Hitchcock film with similar stylistic elements including sheer suspense, mistaken identity and placing an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. The movie is like watching a piece of theatre based heavily on the relationship between two main characters. There’s only brief crude content. The main problem comes in the ending, where the movie’s rather hopeless humanist worldview and ending overcome its moral, redemptive elements and qualities. Most moviegoers probably will be disappointed by PHOENIX, which seems to lack any positive lessons viewers may be able to glean.