Speak low, my darling, speak low
Love is a spark lost in the dark
In Phoenix, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps seeks to rebuild her life in post-war Germany and also discover the truth about her husband: did he betray her to the Nazis or not? I’m just going to tip my hand here; this movie is unbelievably great. This movie is a full-on classic for all time. Okay? Nina Hoss is phenomenal in the lead role; she’s been disfigured in the concentration camp and received reconstructive surgery – she looks like herself, but not herself if that makes any sense and this is symbolic in a big, big way of her attempts to journey back to being the woman she was before the war. That woman is, in a way, lost forever, but if she is gone forever who is this woman living inside her body? Is there a way for her to reclaim anything of her identity or has she been forever and irrevocably altered by the war? Playing into this incredible drama/mystery is her husband and he’s played, in another astoundingly great performance, by Ronald Zehrfeld and the film makes him so much more than he might have been. When the film begins, it seems that his fate is to be a binary character: was he true to his wife or did he betray her? But as the movie unfolds, Zehrfeld lets us see the man behind that question and we begin to understand his struggle as well, in a strange way a struggle that is somehow both like his wife’s and the exact opposite; he’s deeply torn between his desire to recover what he’s lost in the war and his desire to hide and forget that past. The plot has some great twists – this movie isn’t fast-paced or anything, but it’s still a kind of sedate thriller, a film where I was literally swept up with the characters in a story that, and this is a real rarity these days, I had NO idea about where it was going. It’s more than a bit reminiscent of Vertigo in ways that I won’t spoil (and, by the way, don’t watch the trailer as it does spoil one really great plot twist that comes early in the film, but is still so good that you really should let it catch you by surprise). But it’s testament to this film’s greatness that the comparison to Vertigo isn’t ludicrously one-sided. This film too is a classic, an unforgettable meditation on memory, identity, recovery, the wounds we bear and the lies we tell to hide those wounds. I really cannot recommend this movie highly enough; at the time of this writing, it is not available in Region 1 DVD or Blu-Ray, so if you missed it in the handful of theaters that it played in (once again, thank Christ for my local arthouse theater) then you’re out of luck for a bit if you live in America. It’s really an absolutely perfect movie, so put it on your list and prioritize it once it’s out where you live. It’s an atmospheric noir homage, a twisted psychological thriller, a deep character study and I simply can’t heap enough praise on the final scene, which will . . . well, I can’t even, a couple of weeks after seeing the movie, begin to sum up my emotional reaction to the scene. That should speak to the depth and complexity of this film. It’s an absolute must-see, as much a must-see as any film of this year. 4 stars.
tl;dr – beautiful noir thriller about prison camp survivor is slow, methodical with psychological cues from Vertigo, but it has its own things to say about identity, recovery & memory. 4 stars.