The dark shadow of an unbelievable atrocity plays as the background to Christian Petzold’s multifaceted drama straddling such themes as evolving identity, a city scarred, the complexities and perceptions of an intimate relationship, and a wealth of other topics. On the surface, though, Phoenix presents a relatively simple premise with popular intrigue. The story of a disfigured woman posing as herself so that her unaware husband might abscond with her inheritance echoes the allures of a more pulpy thriller, but without ever falling victim to any sensationalist trappings. The film constantly maintains an evolving and swift narrative in tandem with its hefty subject and themes. All of this is testimony to the superlative filmmaking skills of Petzold, one of Germany’s most renowned modern filmmakers, whose prominent style and recurring themes continue to generate great fascination. Though a departure in some sense from his earlier works, the period setting of Phoenix is an exquisite extension of established sensibilities, building towards a triumphant climax that culminates in one of the most powerful conclusions of any feature yet seen in twenty-first-century cinema. There is much to deconstruct in this apparently simple story set within the aftermath of the Second World War and the anguish of the Holocaust, from its manifold themes to its heart-wrenching performances, Phoenix is an essential work from one of our most talented contemporary filmmakers.
0:00 The Amusement Park (2019)
8:55 Pavlos is recruited to the Criterion Collection Cult
22:18 Bo Burnham: Inside
31:28 Reconsidering Old-Time Epics: Intolerance (1916) & Ben Hur (1959)
47:16 Go Go Second Time Virgin
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