Sundance Selects has acquired Phoenix for U.S. distribution, the latest film from German director Christian Petzold, after its gripping world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The film is the latest collaboration from Petzold and his oft-reliable muse Nina Hoss (A Most Wanted Man), and marks their sixth film together.
The most prevailing adjective for Phoenix after its Toronto debut was the term “Hitchcockian.” Audiences noted the film’s very close connection with Hitchcock’s Vertigo – it has even been described as a post-Holocaust re-telling of the 1958 classic.
Phoenix, a drama of post-war guilt, relays the story of Nelly, a holocaust survivor who gets facial reconstructive surgery for an injury and comes out of it unidentifiable. She later encounters her husband Johnny, who may have betrayed her to the Nazis, and doesn’t recognize her. However, Johnny still finds her familiar enough to convince her to pose as his dead wife so he can receive her inheritance. She goes along, if only to discover if he ever really loved her.
Christian Petzold has a penchant for setting his stories during difficult periods in German history. His previous collaboration with Hoss, Babara told the story of a doctor in 1980’s Germany banished to a distant medical clinic after applying for an exit visa. That film won the Silver Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Although some critics claim Phoenix never quite reaches the heights of Barbara, there does seem to be consensus that the final scene of the film has become one of the water cooler moments at Toronto this year. Critics across the board have gone out of their way to characterize the final scene with an abundance of superlatives. They’ve also given praise to Nina Hoss’s performance as being devastating and deeply affecting.
Phoenix will play later this year at the San Sebastian Film Festival.