Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.
Germany/Poland, 2014. Schramm Film Koerner & Weber, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Arte, Tempus. Screenplay by Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki, based on the novel Le Retour Des Cendres by Hubert Monteilhet. Cinematography by Hans Fromm. Produced by Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber. Music by Stefan Will. Production Design by Kade Gruber. Costume Design by Anette Guther. Film Editing by Bettina Bohler. National Board of Review Awards 2015. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2015. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
Nina Hoss barely emerges alive from a concentration camp at the end of World War II, her face horrifically mutilated before she is taken to a clinic and given a new life thanks to reconstructive surgery. Her friend Nina Kunzendorf, who is working on recovering evidence of war crimes, informs her that she is the sole survivor of her family, now holding a sizeable estate and in possession of a new home in Palestine that is waiting for her. Before leaving, Hoss wants to find her husband, determined to be reunited with him even though it has been strongly hinted that he betrayed her to the Nazis and is responsible for her being sent to the camps in the first place. She finds him, and here is where an absorbing drama of process and detail gets a very juicy twist: he doesn’t recognize her but he does see a similarity to what he assumes is his dead wife. He takes Hoss in and teachers her how to imitate herself so that she can pretend to return home from the camps and split her inheritance with him, since without proof of death he cannot get his wife’s money. The process of reliving her relationship with her husband, throughout which she hears about herself from an outside point of view, is fascinating, while the steady, subtle direction by Christian Petzold brings the period out with a rich sense of reality right through to the daring, succinct ending. All that’s missing, then, is a tad bit more substance: the darkness that Kunzendorf represents that takes her to her conclusion is a bit too pat and contrived. There’s no sense of the weight of morality she feels that a similar character like Agata Kulesza in Pawlikowski’s Ida experienced the year before, but the tension between husband and wife is juicy and unforgettable.