Assume that the actions of your spouse led you to the door of a crematorium. What if you didn’t know?

PhoenixA German film that is largely in sub-titles, Phoenix is an intoxicating movie that is difficult to embrace. Set at the close of World War II outside of Berlin, a Jewish woman faces massive facial reconstruction after surviving an extermination attempt at a Nazi concentration camp.

Nina Hoss plays Nelly Lenz, the scarred former singer who has lost all of her family with the exception of her German husband. While she still loves him and seeks to do all that she can to find him, he was a non-Jewish citizen of the Reich whose ability to survive raises questions that Nelly must learn.

What makes the film difficult to absorb is the fact that after Nelly locates her husband, he not only fails to recognize her, but asks her to pose as his missing wife so that he can inherit their estate. The film basically explores the bond formed by love even when it should be abandoned, and Nelly’s path leads to a resolution that I will leave to your imagination.

While Ms. Hoss is quite moving as the damaged Nelly, you have to give credit to Ronald Zehrfeld for adding some dimension to her hateful husband. However, the focus of the film centers on Nelly’s friend Lene, played in heartbreaking fashion by Nin Kunzendorf. Providing Nelly with a roof over her head and food on the table, Lene tries to give her some guidance as she survives her multiple facial surgeries. Even with her wisdom and strength, Lene eventually has to choose between living in a society that has lost all meaning or simply join relatives and friends who have been forced to live beyond the grave.

Like the recently released The Gift, this is a tiny independent film that makes you applaud the efforts by Director Christian Petzold for bringing it to the screen. This is why many movies have meaning that transcend simple enthusiasm or entertainment.