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Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Writer's Life 5/28 - Phoenix

Sometimes a film works despite a questionable premise. Such is the case with Phoenix (2014), which I watched last night courtesy of Netflix. It is tangentially a holocaust story but mainly a mystery. A death camp survivor returns to Berlin immediately after the end of WWII to have facial reconstruction surgery, and to find her husband, who is not a Jew. Arrested by the Nazis, he may have betrayed her to save himself. She finds him. He does not recognize her, although her appearance has not change much. The viewer must either accept or overlook this to enjoy the film. Although I found it hard to believe he wouldn't soon, if not immediately, know her, I realize I hadn't experienced what he had. I'd never suffered through war, been arrested and threatened by Nazi slime, or betrayed someone to a dire extent, all of which might lead a person into a deep sense of denial. He enlists the woman in a plot to make a claim on what is actually her inheritance. Although the pace is slow, the suspense is thick. The creators were wise to keep it short, a running time of only 98 minutes. The closing scene is as good as cinema gets. A former nightclub singer, she performs Speak Low, accompanied by her husband on the piano. That song is from the show One Touch of Venus, music by Kurt Weill, lyrics by poet/humorist Ogden Nash. It was been recorded by Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Tony Bennett, to name a few. Nina Hoss is fantastic in the lead. I was unfamiliar with her previous work, including her nine episode stint on the popular cable show Homeland. Director Christian Petzoid, who has 14 credits at the helm and as a screenwriter, adapted it with Harun Farocki from the novel Return from the Ashes by Hubert Monteilheit, which is available in hardcover at Amazon for $500. It was also adapted in 1965, an American production starring Maximilian Shell. In reading a synopsis of that version, it seems far different from Phoenix. I don't know which is closer to the novel, and it doesn't matter. Phoenix, which was nominated for and won many awards, is a fine film. Unfortunately, the other is not available at Netflix. 9200+ users at IMDb have rated Phoenix, forging to a consensus of 7.3 of ten, a tad low in my estimation. Anyone who prefers a fast pace should pass. The tone is quiet, understated, grounded. The torrent of emotion remains below the surface, the possibility of eruption always there. Most of the film is in German with English subtitles.  

Here are quotes attributed to Nash:
"A door is what a dog is perpetually on the wrong side of."
"Middle age is when you've met so many people that every new person you meet reminds you of someone else."
"There is only one way to achieve happiness on this terrestrial ball, and that is to have either a clear conscience or none at all."
"You are only young once, but you can stay immature indefinitely."
"People who work sitting down get paid more than people who work standing up."
"Parents were invented to make children happy by giving them something to ignore."
"I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I'll never see a tree at all."
"Progress might have been alright once, but it has gone on too long."
"A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold."
"Middle age is when you're sitting at home on a Saturday night and the telephone rings and you hope it isn't for you."
And his most famous: "Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker."

My thanks to Bob, who bought Billionths of a Lifetime today on Bay Parkway. He recently experienced a couple of Kafkaesque dealings with the state, the first in trying to secure a non-driver's license ID at the DMV, and the other at the Social Security office, trying to end payments to his ex-wife, who has reached the age to qualify for her own. He'd never realized his name had been misspelled on the separation document. My thanks also to the gentleman who bought two DVD's and to the one who bought the book on sharks.
Vic's Short Works:
Vic's 5th Novel:'s 4th novel:
Vic's 3rd Novel:
Vic's Short Story on Kindle:
Vic's Short Story Collection:
Vic's 2nd Novel: Kindle:
Vic's 1st Novel:

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