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film

Christian Petzold’s Phoenix

Christian Petzold, Phoenix, 2014, 35 mm transferred to digital video, color, sound, 98 minutes. Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld) and Nelly (Nina Hoss).

CHRISTIAN PETZOLD’S Phoenix is cool, clean, knowing, full of references to other movies—a stylish, belated film noir that invokes a lot more darkness than it can cope with or even acknowledge. It is based on a French novel by Hubert Monteilhet that became an English film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Maximilian Schell and Ingrid Thulin. The book and its adaptation were called, respectively, Le retour des cendres (1961) and Return from the Ashes (1965).

In the new film, the Phoenix is a nightclub in rubble-strewn postwar Berlin. Has Germany been born again from the ashes? Well, some people have survived, through luck or wit or lack of scruples. The club itself looks as if it were trying to be the ashes, with seedy performers imitating imitations of the world of Cabaret.

One of the people who have survived—ashes and worse, in her case—is Nelly (Nina Hoss),

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