Phoenix (2014) Film:Director : Christian Petzold


Nelly Lenz, a Jewish singer, has survived the Nazi concentration camps but at what cost? She is disfigured and has had to undergo facial surgery. Back in what is left of Berlin, accompanied by her faithful friend Lene, she has only one thing in mind, finding Johnny, her musician husband in the ruins of the city. She wants to know if he still loves her and if he has betrayed her, as Lene claims he has. She does meet him but Johnny does not recognize her. Worse, he asks her to impersonate… Nelly, with a view to grabbing her inheritance Written by Guy Bellinger

A smoky duet between double-bass and piano at the start of Christian Petzold’s Phoenix promises a dose of film noir. That promise is complicated, if not exactly broken, by what follows. But then, this is a movie all about disguises, reinventions and deceptive appearances.

It begins with a monstrously tantalising scenario. In mid-1940s Germany, a vehicle is halted at night by US soldiers. A figure is whimpering in the passenger seat, their face concealed by blood-soaked bandages. Perhaps we are in for someEyes Without a Face-style horror, then, rather than noir? Half-wrong again.

This is the former chanteuse Nelly (Nina Hoss), a disfigured concentration camp survivor en route to a surgeon in Berlin. Reconstructing her original face now is out of the question. A loose re-creation can be provided instead. It’s like the doctor says: a new face can be an advantage.

When Nelly later tracks down Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld), the husband who may or may not have shopped her to the Nazis, he fails to recognise her. He does, though, notice that she bears a passing resemblance to his late wife. That gives him an idea: if she were to pose as Nelly, they could split the “dead” woman’s fortune. Enchanted by his attention, and feeling this may be the only way to reclaim her identity, Nelly plays along. Like a master film-maker, Johnny provides her with a back-story, tells her what colour to dye her hair, which clothes to wear. He even choreographs their eventual public reunion. It’s enough to give a girl Vertigo.

This is Petzold’s sixth collaboration with Hoss (who recently made her English-language debut in A Most Wanted Man). Echoes abound of their previous work together. Like Yella (2007), Phoenix takes place in a kind of purgatory; the infernal scarlet glow spilling from the nightclub which gives the film its title suggests it might even be hell. And in common with the duo’s last picture, the Oscar-nominated Barbara (2012), set during the cold war, it offers accessible commentary on recent German history.

But Phoenix is their most complex work to date, as shown by Hoss’s fine-grained performance. Called upon to play a character playing a character playing a character, her dexterity is astonishing. She is part-actor, part-Russian doll.

It’s a testament to Petzold’s sane head, steady hand and effortless storytelling skill that implausible plot-points are smuggled past us in their own blood-soaked bandages. Would Johnny really fail to spot the truth after spending so long in close proximity to this conveniently placed stranger? Would Nelly honestly persist in finding ways to excuse each of her husband’s crimes against her?

In another film, maybe none of this would wash. Here, the warped narrative functions as an allegory for the stories that people and nations recount to themselves in order to go on surviving. The clincher is the use of music, in particular a performance by Hoss of Kurt Weill and Ogden Nash’s Speak Low(“Love is a spark, lost in the dark too soon…”). It ties together the film’s themes eloquently but with no comforting sense of resolution.

Tiff 2014 – Phoenix

by Brian Tallerico

September 9, 2014

Christian Petzold’s stunning “Phoenix” has been buzzed about this year as the best film of the 2014 Toronto Film Festival. While more high profile, mostly American (or British) works get the headlines, it’s often a foreign film that gets critics talking, and this year’s arguable masterpiece is the latest from the director of “Jerichow” and “Barbara,” a film that, in my eyes, earns every bit of its TIFF adoration, and more. This is an amazing piece of work that transcends historical document to become art. Using the filmic language of noir, Petzold crafts a story of a culture caught in the aftermath of horror. Moving through the rubble of Berlin just after the end of World War II, the characters of “Phoenix” are ghosts, denying past betrayals and putting up a façade to keep the pain repressed. They have done strong work together in the past, but “Phoenix” is the kind of film that should propel Petzold and regular star Nina Hoss to the forefront of international cinema. It’s unforgettable.

Hoss plays Nelly Lenz, a woman who has escaped from a concentration camp, but suffered severe facial injuries in the process. Her whole face will have to be rebuilt, leaving a shadow of her old self, a version of Nelly but not exactly the same one that existed before the war. Despite protestations from the one woman who knows the truth about her, Nelly decides to seek out her husband, Johnny (Ronald Zehrfeld, who also appeared in “Barbara”), even though there’s evidence to suggest that it was he who turned Nelly into the SS. Johnny was arrested on October 4th and released on October 6th, the same day Nelly was arrested. He sold her out for his own safety.

When Nelly crosses paths with Johannes (don’t call him Johnny any more), he notices the resemblance, but has completely convinced himself that his wife must be dead. “She’s dead. I know she’s dead.” It’s a trick of denial, pushing such a horrendous act to history instead of realizing that it may be still there in the present. However, his wife has an unclaimed fortune, and Johannes convinces Nelly to pretend to be who she actually is to claim it. He trains her to be Nelly again, dressing her in the right clothes, working on her handwriting, and coordinating “Nelly’s return” to civilization. She goes along with it, frightened to reveal the truth, and hopeful that this will allow her some semblance of the life she once she had, even as she refuses to believe that it is her husband’s betrayal that destroyed her in the first place.

The plot of “Phoenix” is its first masterstroke: a brilliant encapsulation of how people cope (or refuse to cope) with tragedy, especially when it’s at least partially of their own making. Nelly is a ghost, a physical representation of horror. Hoss does a complete 180 from the confident characters she’s played in the past, portraying Nelly’s wide-eyed fear at losing everything that she holds dear to her identity—her husband, her life, her very face. Like so many people after World War II, she is a survivor who doesn’t know how to move on from what she’s lost forever. It is Nelly and Johnny’s denial that makes their relationship so riveting. He refuses to realize this woman is the person he betrayed while she refuses to realize she can never really go back again.

Petzold’s visualization of this emotionally daring story is so finely tuned and executed that it can be taken for granted. Look at the art direction in the rubble-strewn streets of Berlin. Watch the physicality of Johnny and Nelly change as they work on their plan together in his shabby apartment. The blocking, the tight quarters, the sense of espionage almost give the film the air of noir. It feels like a Hitchcock work at times in its interplay of shadow and light, which Petzold uses thematically as well. Nelly is slumped, and regularly in shadows early in the film, and is seen more completely as her character climbs out of its darkness.

Finally, and perhaps more importantly, Hoss is mesmerizing here in every single beat. It’s a performance from which you can’t turn away. Watch Nelly shrivel in the first-act suggestions that she get a new face or simply move away from Berlin. If she’s not “Nelly Lenz of Berlin,” who is she? Hoss sells the need we all have for identity, for place, for home, with palpable intensity. And watch the way she slowly unfolds as Johnny transforms her, becoming both more confident and more aware of the horror of her situation as she rises like the titular creature of the film. The final scene, without spoiling anything, is a movie moment for the ages. In a film festival of five-to-six movie days, it’s hard sometimes to remember key moments. I will never forget the end of “Phoenix.” Ever. Here’s hoping this incredible film gets to an audience so it can sear itself into your memory as well.

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom (2013) Biography -History- Film. Director: Justin Chadwick









Nelson Mandela is a South African lawyer who joins the African National Congress in the 1940s when the law under the Apartheid system’s brutal tyranny proves useless for his people. Forced to abandon peaceful protest for armed resistance after the Sharpeville Massacre, Mandela pays the price when he and his comrades are sentenced to life imprisonment for treason while his wife, Winnie, is abused by the authorities herself. Over the decades in chains, Mandela’s spirit is unbowed as his struggle goes on in and beyond his captivity to become an international cause. However, as Winnie’s determination hardens over the years into a violent ruthlessness, Nelson’s own stature rises until he becomes the renowned leader of his movement. That status would be put to the test as his release nears and a way must be found to win a peaceful victory that will leave his country, and all its peoples, unstained. Written by Kenneth Chisholm, Sunday 8 September 2013

It’s barely five minutes before the woman starts to wail on the soundtrack. Young men in terry-towels run through the long grass. The sun brushes the lens. He dives into the river a boy, emerges fully-formed as a world leader.

A Long Walk to Freedom lays out the legend ofNelson Mandela in grand, sonorous style. It presents a portrait of the South African freedom fighter that is shot for spectacle. This is a life heavy with significance, pitted with great speeches, backed with swooning orchestration that will climb to an emotional peak just as he addresses the crowd.

Idris Elba plays Mandela from his early days as smoothie lawyer, through his recruitment by the ANC to his arrest, imprisonment and eventual release. Elba makes a convincing statesman – he has the stature, can dummy the gravitas. His take on the icon is respectful and deft. Winnie is played by Naomie Harris, who charges the character with a revolutionary zeal.

The film rushes through Mandela’s life and times. Johannesburg, Sharpeville, Robben Island, freedom. It’s a tick-box check-list of things you should know about the man. An Encarta Encyclopedia article laid out on an epic scale. Time is contracted (we spend 30 minutes in prison; Mandela got 27 years), the greatest hits are rolled out, but there’s nothing that embraces the idea that life makes a man and informs his politics. The day-to-day is lost in the bluster.

It’s tough capturing a life so significant on screen. He revolutionised his country, but it was a long struggle with marginal victories. The film overcompensates. It bellows at you. Tells you apartheid was bad by placing champagne-sipping whites on a balcony and black people down on the streets below. It pumps in the period detail, drops in chunks of news footage to back up its importance. In reality Mandela forced change through by plugging away, by persisting in a long, frustrating struggle. The pace of change was achingly slow. It’s hard not to feel that there’s something in that that’s fundamentally uncinematic.


Hard moral decisions weigh heavily. And in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” Justin Chadwick’s stately screen biography of Nelson Mandela, the British actor Idris Elba conveys the agony as well as the nobility of Mr. Mandela’s quest for South African racial equality. Much of that pain is suppressed rage at the cruelty and injustice of apartheid. As Mr. Mandela looks beyond the fury of the moment and calculates the cost of urging violence, you sense his frustration at having to make the only reasonable choice and taking the high road.

Idris Elba, left, and Naomie Harris in “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” based on Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.

Mr. Elba doesn’t look much like Mr. Mandela. He is considerably beefier. But he has the same sharp, hyper-alert gaze that acknowledges the world’s horrors while looking above and beyond toward a humanitarian ideal. He also captures Mr. Mandela’s distinctive accent with an uncanny accuracy. Mr. Elba is completely convincing as a natural leader with a ferocious drive. He makes you feel the almost unimaginable personal price Mr. Mandela paid by spending 27 years in prison, separated from his family and the anti-apartheid movement on an island off Cape Town. His lowest moment comes when he is forbidden to leave the island to bury his eldest son.

The performances of Mr. Elba and of Naomie Harris — who plays his wife Winnie, a volatile firebrand whose simmering anger can erupt at any moment — give a crucial human dimension to this streamlined, panoramic, would-be epic. The Mandelas are the only significant roles in a movie in which everyone else, including white South African leaders, is a bit player.

“Long Walk to Freedom” sustains the measured, inspirational tone of a grand, historical pageant. Events that are worth films of their own are compressed into a sweeping, generalized history. Gripping, dynamically choreographed scenes of street violence are harrowing but short, as the story hurtles forward at breakneck speed.

If the lack of specifics about politics is frustrating, how could it be otherwise? Mr. Mandela’s biography and South African history are so rich and inextricably linked that it is impossible to reduce it to a nearly two-and-a-half-hour movie without it feeling rushed and incomplete. “Winnie Mandela,” Darrell J. Roodt’s recent much inferior film, in which Mr. Mandela made only brief appearances, had the same problem.

Still, to their credit, Mr. Chadwick (“The Other Boleyn Girl”) and the screenwriter, William Nicholson, who adapted the script from Mr. Mandela’s autobiography, have created a movie with the flow and grandeur of a traditional Hollywood biopic. “Long Walk to Freedom” barely glosses Mr. Mandela’s youth. We meet him as a teenager in his Xhosa village completing a ritual initiation into manhood.

Minutes later, he is a dashing hot-shot defense lawyer and amateur boxer, whose first wife, Evelyn, leaves him because of his womanizing. He meets his match in Winnie, and they are immediately aware of themselves as a power couple bound together in a common struggle for racial equality.

Mr. Mandela’s dalliance with violence leads to his arrest and sentence of life imprisonment on Robben Island, where he breaks rocks in a quarry. The movie speeds through his prison years, taking just enough time to show the diabolical ways that punishment is meted out and small privileges extended. When he and his fellow African National Congress leaders arrive there, they are obliged to wear shorts. He wages a successful campaign for the prisoners to be given long pants, a symbolic but small victory. That’s how the movie picks and chooses its humanizing moments, and there are enough to keep its tone from seeming stuffily reverent.

“Long Walk to Freedom” warms up once Mr. Mandela is released from prison, warily reunites with Winnie and negotiates an end to apartheid with the white power structure. The compelling scenes of the Mandelas, no longer youthful, bitterly disagreeing over policy and separating, are so powerfully acted that every accusatory glance exchanged by the couple conveys accumulated years of struggle and sacrifice. Intransigently radical, Winnie Mandela endorsed retaliation against black South Africans who collaborated with the apartheid regime. One scene shows a young man about to be burned alive. During this final third, the film comes the closest to shedding its lofty airs.

Mr. Elba’s towering performance lends “Long Walk to Freedom” a Shakespearean breadth. His Mandela is an intensely emotional man whose body quakes in moments of sorrow and whose face is stricken with a bone-deep anguish. The carefully chosen words in his eloquent declarations of principle, spoken with gravity and deliberation, are deeply stirring.

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned) for scenes of intense violence, sexual content and strong language.




Red Obsession (2013) Documentary /History Film.Directors: David Roach, Warwick Ross



For centuries, Bordeaux has assumed a mythical status in the world of fine wine as a leitmotif of wealth, power and influence, but its prosperity has always been linked to the capricious nature of markets and the shifting fortunes of global economies. Now change is coming to Bordeaux, with traditional customers like the US and the UK falling away, as China’s new rich push prices to stratospheric levels. The demand is unprecedented, but the product is finite and this new client wants it all. Will the China market be the bubble that never bursts or the biggest threat yet to Bordeaux’s centuries old reputation?(Imdb)


Sheila O’Malley

September 6, 2013

When the CEOs and proprietors of the great wine chateaux in the Bordeaux region of France talk about what they do in “Red Obsession,” a new documentary directed by David Roach and Warwick Ross, they sound like poets and mystics. One says that you “need to bring so much love to your vineyard.” Standing amidst the vines, another says, “There’s a vibration here.” One speaks of having a visceral sense of the history of the area, of the early ancestors who figured out the proper way to bring the grapes to fruition. Narrated by Russell Crowe, “Red Obsession” takes us through the background of the wine-producing capital of the world, its history, its dependence on capricious elements (like the weather, the global economy), and the challenges facing the area due to rising prices and crumbling markets.

“Red Obsession” opens with an elegant tracking shot of a dark warehouse filled with wooden barrels, as Joss Stone moans “I Put a Spell On You.” It’s sexy, a fitting opening for a film about obsession, about wine-mania, about people who live, breathe, eat, think, drink wine. The footage of Bordeaux is awe-inspiring, with aerial shots of the great chateaux and the vineyards. Closeups of the labels from the different chateaux abound, along with luscious shots of glimmering wine being poured. The obsessive nature of the entire industry is reflected in these shots, a good marriage of theme and form.

Through interviews with wine journalists and chateaux proprietors (including Francis Ford Coppola), we learn about the business, its ups and downs, its competitions. Journalists talk about how difficult it is to describe wine, even though it is their business to do so, and they too sound like poets or mystics. “A wine is like a voice, an instrument with a timbre…” The chateaux work with the journalists, holding wine-tastings of each new vintage, waiting for the verdict. The proprietors of the chateaux are clearly international businesspeople in one respect, but in another respect they are farmers, who understand that you have good years and bad years. Much is out of your control. The pressure is enormous to keep producing stellar wines, but when you are dealing with nature you cannot always guarantee the results. One of the real issues in recent years is that the prices of the bottles of wine have risen so astronomically that they have become too valuable to drink. People now buy bottles of wine as investments, rather than something to be shared at a special occasion.

The economic collapse of 2008 and 2009 has impacted the Bordeaux region in an immediate way. Americans stopped buying expensive wine en masse, and up until then America was the major market for Bordeaux wines. But another market has exploded, almost overnight, in China. The second half of the film is devoted to the wine-mania in China, the cutthroat wine auctions in Hong Kong, the entrepreneur (he made his fortune in sex toys) whose wine collection is worth 60 million US dollars.

Bordeaux wine-manufacturers may talk like poets and mystics but they are practical people of trade, and recognized that China was a new market with unlimited possibilities. The cities in China are shown with a frenetic speeded-up film, lights buzzing along the highways and glittering off and on in the skyscrapers, quite a different dynamic from the stately footage of Bordeaux. Wine is going for such high prices in China that the folks back in Bordeaux are concerned. The prices are becoming divorced from reality, a clear sign that a speculative bubble may be forming. This is a controversial issue, and the talking heads, Chinese and French, argue it out from across the globe.

The narration is simply done, providing us with the necessary context to understand the interconnectedness of this world, its history, its reliance on weather, politics and trade agreements. Informative though it may be, “Red Obsession” is a moody and emotional piece of work. Clouds race over the French chateaux, clouds of change. Obsession keeps Bordeaux in business, but obsession can be unreliable. What happens if China loses its interest in wine and moves on to something else?

Coppola describes the experience of drinking a glass of Chateau Margaux that was bottled four years after the French Revolution. It was a profound experience. He wonders if Lafayette had had a glass of it. He wonders if maybe Thomas Jefferson, a famous wine-lover and wine-obsessive, had had a glass. The glass of wine connected Coppola to those earlier times. “Wine tells a story,” he says.




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