Tuesday, 31 March 2015


A classical historical drama that serves not to remind us of our place in the history it documents, but to remind us of its place in the cinematic history it references. Christian Petzold finds an ideal conduit for his lean, measured, expressive style in the classics of old, and conjures up some of their movie magic with a modern classic of his own. The screen virtually simmers with tension and with emotion equally deep and deeply buried. Phoenix is, alas, one of those films where you wonder if your lasting impression is of the film as a whole or of just one scene - never mind, that impression is what it is either way, and if Petzold wishes to draw focus in on one particular moment over the others, then why shouldn't he? Otherwise, Phoenix is subdued, and quite appropriately so: Petzold thus turns our thoughts outward from the film, onto ourselves, the frequent stillness and contemplation, the rumination over a devastating past and a bewildering present. We are posed a variety of questions, each as impossible to answer succinctly as the last, and thus a long-lasting impression is definitively formed. Yet more questions reside within the film, which keeps you guessing with use of subtle, human red herrings, and a tentative, cloistered atmosphere that provides no certainty to even the smallest of occurrences. Petzold's simple mise-en-scene may not cover for occasional lack of intensity, but it's that intensity that Phoenix thrives off in its most unshakeable sequences. Nina Hoss is an equal creative collaborator with Petzold, undoubtedly, the restrained power of her immensely expressive performance ultimately proving shattering - no question, this is a feat of incredible skill from the great actor; opposite her, Ronald Zehrfeld at least makes you half realise why this desperate woman does what she does. And there's that one particular moment, the one I mentioned before. You'll know it when you see it.