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Film / Phoenix (2014)

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Phoenix is a 2014 German drama film directed by Christian Petzold.

In Germany, right after the end of World War II, Holocaust survivor Nelly Lenz goes through a facial reconstruction surgery after sustaining a bullet wound in the concentration camp. After the surgery she looks for her husband Johnny, a Gentile, whom she has not seen since the day she was arrested. She finds him, but he does not recognize her. However Johnny thinks that she resembles his "late" wife and suggests that she pass for her so he can collect her inheritance. Nelly, still in love with Johnny, goes along with this charade... up to a certain point.


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Tropes displayed in this film:

  • Butch Lesbian: Nelly's friend Lene, who wears masculine clothes and has obvious feelings towards Nelly.
  • Cassandra Truth: Lene tries to warn Nelly that Johnny may be a traitor more than once, but Nelly does not believe her until Lene presents her the papers that prove his betrayal.
  • Dead Person Impersonation: The whole premise is a woman being approached by her former husband for a scam where she should pose as the wife to claim her inheritance. The twist is that, unknown to the con man, the "impostor" is the real person.
  • Doppelgänger Replacement Love Interest: Johnny finds a woman that resembles his wife and proposes her a deal to pose as his "late" wife. He develops some attraction to her. Unbeknownst to him, she is in fact his wife.
  • Driven to Suicide: Nelly's friend Lene commits suicide late into the movie, leaving her a message that Johnny had divorced Nelly the day right before the Nazis arrested her. This forces Nelly to see the truth about Johnny.
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  • Et Tu, Brute?: Nelly eventually finds written evidence that her husband betrayed her to the Gestapo.
  • Facial Horror: Nelly took a bullet that destroyed her face, necessitating that she undergo facial reconstruction at the start of the movie. Despite her request that she look exactly like before, the surgeon can't do so and she ends up looking a little off, leading to Johnny's misconception.
  • Film Noir: The film is indebted to film noir, particularly the scenes that take place at night.
  • Genocide Survivor: The film is about two Holocaust survivors, Nelly and Lene, who return to Berlin after Nelly has undergone facial reconstruction surgery. Nelly is looking for her husband, Johnny, to find out whether he betrayed her to the Nazis. Lene also commits suicide rather than going on living near the end, leaving Nelly alone.
  • Genuine Imposter: Johnny thinks Nelly is someone else who happens to resemble his wife, who he believes died in the concentration camps. He has Nelly, who calls herself Esther to go along with the illusion, effectively pass for herself in order to get her inheritance.
  • Internal Reveal: The audience knows from the start that Nelly is, well, Nelly. Johnny thinks she's a random woman who happens to look like his wife and does not learn the truth until the very end.
  • Lady in Red: Johnny insists that Nelly wears a lovely red dress when she simulates her coming back, despite Nelly points out the inconsistency of wearing a pretty dress when coming back from an hellhole.
  • Love-Interest Traitor: Johnny himself sold Nelly to the Gestapo and divorced her the day before her capture.
  • Love Martyr: Nelly towards Johnny. She goes through the charade hoping he will recognise her, but he cares only for the money.
  • Loving a Shadow: Nelly insists on reuniting with a man despite the evidence that he has clearly abandoned her. It's more a case of wanting to go back to the life she had before the horrors of war.
  • Oh, Crap!: Johnny freezes with terror as he hears Nelly's singing voice and realizes he has accidentally employed his wife on a scam that proves his betrayal of her.
  • Plot Hole: Johnny insists in dolling up Nelly for her big coming back and putting on this show for her friends. Nelly (who is the real one and has been in Auschwitz all this time) points the inconsistency of being a pretty, healthy Holocaust survivor.
  • Scenery Gorn: Post-war Berlin, as in Real Life, is a pile of ruins and ashes.
  • Unexpected Inheritance: Nelly is the Sole Survivor of her family, so she has inherited quite the fortune. Johnny, believing her death, is looking for a woman who can impersonate her and claim the inheritance for him.
  • Wham Shot: Johnny notices at the end the infamous tattooed number on Nelly's arm, proving that "Esther" was his wife all along.
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