October 3, 2022

<p>Back in April of 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear power plant just outside of Prypiat in the Ukraine had a catastrophic accident and an explosion released enormous quantities of radioactive contamination in the atmosphere and surrounding area.  It has long since been considered the worst nuclear power accident in the world. With a premise based in such a disturbing reality, there’s no way this could go wrong… right?</p>

In post World War II Germany a woman, named Nelly, is brought home having survived a concentration camp, but her face is ruined, bloody and bandaged, requiring reconstructive surgery. Her entire family is dead, she doesn’t recognize herself, and her husband may be the one who turned her into the Nazis.

In post World War II Germany a woman, named Nelly, is brought home having survived a concentration camp, but her face is ruined, bloody and bandaged, requiring reconstructive surgery. Her entire family is dead, she doesn’t recognize herself, and her husband may be the one who turned her into the Nazis.

Nelly, who was a nightclub singer before the war, has come into a large inheritance as a result of being the sole survivor in her family. Her friend, Lene, who’s been taking care of her is focused on them taking this money to establish a new home in Israel, but Nelly just wants to see her husband again. There are great moments where Nelly looks over a photo of her friends that’s been marked with X’s and O’s marking those who are dead and those who were Nazis. There are monsters in the world, they can be anyone, their actions devastating, all too easy and casual.

Nelly eventually finds her husband, and he looks right past her, not recognizing her with her new face. But seeing him again was the thing that kept her going, so she goes back again. He thinks she’s just a poor woman looking for work and makes her an offer: Pretend to be his dead wife returned from a concentration camp so that he can collect her inheritance. And so Nelly begins training to become herself, a task to which she is surprisingly well suited (although she moves all wrong).

There are a lot of emotions swirling beneath the surface in every scene of Phoenix, but what ultimately makes it work is how well it maintains its spinning plates right up to the final scene, which is great and perfect. It should have been accompanied by a mic drop, except that would have killed the mood. There are a lot of movies that don’t know when to end, they hold on too long, even after they’ve said what they need to say. Sometimes you just need to get out of your own way.

Sometimes being great is just about sticking the landing.