Phoenix (Christian Petzold, 2014)

Nelly and rubble

Ash, ash–
You poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there–

A cake of soap,
A wedding ring,
A gold filling. 

. . .

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

~Sylvia Plath, “Lady Lazarus”

I confess, I found myself a bit disappointed when I learned Christian Petzold’s new film, Phoenix, would be “about the Holocaust.” There is a certain weariness that arises out of the fact that so many use or have used the events of the Holocaust as a reference point, whether artistically, for a film’s central story (see Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, among others) or socially, for a cheap point in a debate gone awry (see my Facebook feed). I wondered whether I was up for seeing yet another movie centering around the much-documented tragedy.

But great artists work familiar things in such unfamiliar ways that even the cliché can take on unexpected, fresh resonance, and I see the familiar thing as I had not seen it before. It is both old and wholly new.  Continue reading