Phoenix (film)

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Original title Phoenix
Country of production Germany
original language German
Publishing year 2014
length 98 minutes
Age rating FSK 12
Director Christian Petzold
script Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki
production Schramm Film Koerner & Weber

Bavarian Broadcasting (BR), West German Broadcasting (WDR),

Arte (co-production)
music Stefan Will
camera Hans Fromm
cut Bettina Boehler

Phoenix is a German fiction film directed by Christian Petzold from 2014 with Nina Hoss , Ronald Zehrfeld and Nina Kunzendorf in the leading roles. The German theatrical release was on September 25, 2014.


The film is set in Germany in autumn 1945, shortly after the end of the Second World War . After her imprisonment in the Auschwitz concentration camp, her friend Lene brought the Jew Nelly Lenz by car to Berlin. Nelly survived her shooting in the camp, but suffered severe facial and head injuries. These are fixed by facial surgery, but their appearance is changed. Lene, who works at the Jewish Agency , takes great care of Nelly's well-being and searches archives for the fate of Nelly's relatives. She finds out that their entire family has been killed and that Nelly has inherited a substantial sum.

Apart from Lene, nobody knows that Nelly survived. When all inheritance matters have been settled, Lene would like to emigrate to Palestine with Nelly. But Nelly doesn't want to know about this plan. Instead, she wants to see her husband Johnny again. Johnny used to be a piano player and Nelly a singer. Since Lene found out that Johnny had betrayed Nelly's hiding place to the Nazis, she is not enthusiastic about the idea.

Nelly doesn't believe Lene that Johnny has betrayed her and goes to look for him on her own. When she finds him in the Phoenix nightclub , he doesn't recognize his ex-wife. He is convinced that she is dead. He only notices the great resemblance and makes her an offer: she should play Nelly's role so that he can get hold of the inheritance of the supposedly deceased. Nelly, who introduced herself as 'Esther', agrees.

Nelly moves in with Johnny and is taught by Johnny how to play Nelly. She practices walking, handwriting and the way Nelly put on makeup. Johnny, also known as Johannes, keeps them at a distance, but their relationship gets a little better. They are planning the 'first arrival' of Nelly. Lene learns of Nelly's plans, is disappointed and does not want to play the game. Lene asks Nelly when she plans to reveal the truth about her identity to Johnny.

Nelly always leaves the house veiled because Johnny is afraid that she will be recognized as Nelly. While out for a walk, Nelly and Johnny talk about previous walks. When suddenly a group of men pass by, Johnny kisses Nelly to hide her face.

One day Johnny Esther / Nelly drives to a couple who stay near Nelly's former hiding place. She is recognized as Nelly and is kindly invited by the woman. During the conversation, Nelly finds out that Johnny came to Nelly's hiding place shortly after her arrest. Nelly goes to her previous hiding place and is followed by Johnny. On the way home, Nelly asks if Johnny betrayed his wife. He doesn't answer and instead speaks of Nelly's planned 'first arrival'.

When Nelly later wants to visit Lene, she finds out that she had committed suicide these days before. Lene has left Nelly a letter in which she reveals that Johnny had divorced Nelly - the day before Nelly's arrest. Johnny takes Nelly to a hotel. The next day she is supposed to take the train to Berlin from there. Johnny says he has to briefly inflict a wound on Nelly so that she (Esther) has an excuse for her missing prisoner number. Since Nelly initially claimed that she only knew about concentration camps from reports, but as a concentration camp inmate she has a tattooed number, she locks herself in the bathroom and pulls the revolver that Lene had initially given her and the divorce certificate from her pocket. But Johnny lets go of his plan.

The next day, Nelly got off at the main train station in Berlin as planned and met her friends for the first time after the war. In a later tea party, the friends talk about how Johnny and Nelly used to give concerts together. Nelly invites her friends into the house and tells Johnny to play the song " Speak Low ". He plays the song hesitantly, fearing that the wrong Nelly could give herself away, and Nelly too begins to sing hesitantly at first. She then finds her voice and lets her sleeve slide up. Johnny, who recognizes Nelly's voice better and better, sees her tattooed prisoner number and, close to tears, stops playing. Nelly finishes the song, takes her coat and leaves the house.

Film music

The song Speak Low from the musical One Touch of Venus by Kurt Weill plays a central role in the film.


The plot of the film is based on the crime thriller Le retour des cendres (1961) by Hubert Monteilhet ( filmed in 1965 as A Door Falls ) and on the short story Ein Liebesversuch by Alexander Kluge . In addition, Phoenix influenced by the films Vertigo - From the realm of the dead of Alfred Hitchcock and Les yeux sans visage (1960) by Georges Franju . He uses the motif of the man who wants to model a woman after the model of a loved deceased woman and only realizes late that it is the same person.

The photo that Johnny Nelly gives so that she should change her appearance according to this model shows the actress Hedy Lamarr .

The film is dedicated to Fritz Bauer .


Christian Buß praises the film in the Spiegel : “Petzold prepares the aftermath of the genocide against the Jews (...) in" Phoenix "as a disturbing and yet highly precise crime melodrama. In this way, classic genre cinema becomes an opportunity to expand the boundaries of rigid German history cinema. At last."

Georg Diez also criticizes him in Der Spiegel : “The Germans live in holes and starve, the Jews live in villas and have a housekeeper - has someone from the production department noticed that such a lunatic depiction exactly reflects the prejudices with which the hatred of Jews is expresses? ... What kind of tolerance for tolerance would this woman have to be that she does not collapse when her friend Lene, who saved and cared for Nelly and who wanted to go to Palestine with her, simply kills herself - by the way, what exactly is the historical and political statement here? ... But what "Phoenix" shows almost as an example is the failure of a privatist understanding of politics - Petzold's attempt to squeeze the gigantic crime to the size of a chamber and his diffuse view of history as a sequence of states ... "

Cristina Nord writes in the Taz that the film casts “a hard look at National Socialism that is not gentle on the Germans”. "Unlike so many history movies in recent years, Petzold is not looking for any decent German characters or for post-war victim stories ... The clarity with which" Phoenix "rejects the possibility of a love between a non-Jewish German and a Jewish German makes it impossible to lose sight of the Nazi crimes. "

Julia Dettke says in ZEIT : “Phoenix is ​​a captivating, aesthetically precisely composed film with two great female leading actresses (especially Nina Kunzendorf can outgrow her role as a crime scene). But what is even more important here for once: It's a film that doesn't make it easy for itself. No simple solutions, no binary oppositions. "

In Perlentaucher Lukas Foerster says: “This film reaches exactly to the gates of the camp, and so does Petzold's work. It approaches fascist terror and genocide strictly from the present. Petzold's cinema is a cinema not over but after the camps; or: a cinema about the conditions of the possibility of cinema after the camps. "

Kenneth Turan describes Phoenix in the Los Angeles Times as an intoxicating witch's brew, equal parts melodrama and moral parable, which boldly combines different elements in an irresistible and disturbing way. Phoenix is supported by a delicate and nuanced portrayal of Nina Hoss, the German actress of her generation.

For the New York Times film critic , AO Scott, the film is never less than fascinating, intelligent, and flawlessly told. Petzold makes skilful and exciting conversation, which, however, is not sure whether it wants or can be more. It is most likely to come to this at the end of the film, where the whole weight of cruelty, betrayal and hope is poured into a well-known song.

To begin with, for Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern, the film culminates in a moment of unspeakable beauty through the power of a single human voice. Christoph Petzold's drama is beautiful and full of mysterious power from beginning to end. A story of lost love and lost identity in bombed-out Berlin after the Holocaust is told as a film noir with elements of science fiction. It is a daring work of art that transcends logic by addressing the heart directly with the visual and dramatic language of common film conventions.



Web links

Individual evidence

  1. a b Julia Dettke: Zero hour of an I, in: Die Zeit, September 4, 2014
  2. a b c Cristina Nord: From the Realm of the Dead, in Taz, September 24, 2014
  3. Jenny Jecke: Petzold on Phoenix: Cinema shouldn't be a school. In: MoviePilot, September 26, 2014
  4. Kira Taszman: Christian Petzold - Interview on Phoenix, in: Negativ, September 25, 2014
  5. Christian Buß : Holocaust film by Christian Petzold: Auf High Heels from the concentration camp, in: Spiegel Online, September 5, 2014 , accessed on October 23, 2014
  6. Georg Diez: What's that supposed to mean? In: Spiegel online, September 22, 2014
  7. Lukas Foerster: Impossible counter-shot. In: Perlentaucher, September 24, 2014
  8. Kenneth Turan: A survivor sifts through the ashes in haunting 'Phoenix'. In: Los Angeles Times . July 30, 2015, accessed September 7, 2015 .
  9. ^ AO Scott: 'Phoenix' Shows Rebirth and a Ruse in Postwar Germany. In: New York Times . July 23, 2015, accessed September 7, 2015 .
  10. Joe Morgenstern: 'Phoenix' Review: Facing A New World. In: Wall Street Journal . July 30, 2015, accessed September 7, 2015 .
  11. ^ Prize for Christian Petzold in San Sebastián, in: Focus Online, September 28, 2014
  12. Phoenix in Hörfilm database of Hörfilm e. V.
  13. 13th German Audio Film Award 2015