Tuesday, August 18, 2015


I hemmed and hawed about seeing Phoenix last night, in part because I knew I was setting an ambitious schedule for this week that my body might not be able to manage - sleeping in the new place looks like it's going to be something of a challenge during the crazy summer heat, so I'm feeling kind of run-down. But, I made it to Kendall in plenty of time, so I went for it.

As much as I knew I was going to be thinking about it alongside The Third Man as soon as I saw the two were playing next to each other, I didn't think to to get a picture until after I was on the way home. I actually wouldn't be surprised if the Brattle did book the pair as a double feature later this fall; it's kind of perfect as a natural-but-not-mirror-image pairing. Seeing Ronald Zehrfeld pop up on screen all amoral and boyish made it even more natural. I'm kind of glad it worked out as well as it did.

Strangely, I didn't realize that this was from the same filmmaker as Barbara; you'd think that would have been on the poster, but that got such a tiny release here (a week in the Coolidge's GoldScreen). Either way, it's another great double feature.

The only real negative, aside from some early-film pacing issues, is That Damn Blue Pixel.

People who go to the Kendall Square theater probably know what I'm talking about. In theater #6, almost exactly in the center of the screen, is a pixel that never varies in color, and while it's okay for many films - if the bright, constantly-moving Khalil Gibran's The Prophet plays there, it will hardly be noticeable - but in something that has the kind of shadows Phoenix does, it's not good at all. It's been there for at least a year, and I can't blame the theater for not doing something about it; the part you'd have to replace is the most expensive part of an expensive digital projection system, and it's one pixel out of 2,073,600 (maybe less for a wide movie), but it does raise the question of just how many would have to be broken before a replacement is worth it.


* * * ½ (out of four)
Seen 16 August 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #6 (first-run, DCP)

In a happy coincidence, the local boutique multiplex was playing Phoenix and the new restoration of The Third Man in adjacent theaters on the night when I saw the former, and the pair would make a fantastic double feature: Though the two noir stories set in a dangerous postwar Europe with boyish but untrustworthy old acquaintances arriving late have some fairly noteworthy differences, they've got just enough DNA in common to draw comparison, and Phoenix is good enough not to be embarrassed by it.

As it starts, Lene Winter (Nina Kunzendorf) is returning to Berlin with a heavily-bandaged passenger in the other seat. Her friend is Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss), a once-popular singer who was shot in the face while in Auschwitz. Having inherited plenty from her extinct family, she can afford the best reconstructive surgery, although the result is apparently not quite perfect. Indeed, when Nelly finds her husband Johannes (Ronald Zehrfeld) busing tables at the cabaret where he used to play piano, he does not recognize her - but decides "Esther" resembles Nelly enough that, with the proper training and grooming, he can impersonate his presumed-dead wife so that he can collect her inheritance, which certainly plays into Lene's belief that "Johnny" betrayed Nelly to the Nazis.

The title of Phoenix refers to resurrection, and the screenplay by Harun Farocki and director Christian Petzold (based upon a novel by Hubert Monteihet) plays a bit with that word's prefix at the start, discussing whether Nelly's surgery is best described as "reconstruction" or "recreation". Everybody in this film is trying to put Nelly back together, though each their own way and seldom with pure motives: Johannes, most obviously, wants to recreate a version of Nelly that will be useful to him, and while Lene's motives are far more altruistic, she is also anxious to rebuild her friend in her own image, more embracing of her Jewish heritage to the point of emigrating to the nascent Israel with her. Nelly, meanwhile, is drawn to what she was before, insisting on visiting the rubble of her former home and recreating what photographs she can. Obviously, none can fully succeed; even as Nelly struggles to become herself again, she realizes that she is irrevocably changed.

Full review on EFC.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

why does lene commit suicide?