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The Curtain Descends; Everything Ends

Phoenix
Produced by Schramm Film Koerner & Weber and Bayerische Rundfunk 
Directed and written by Christian Petzold 
Distributed by Sundance Selects 

The Gift
Produced by Blue-Tongue Films and Blumhouse Productions 
Directed and written by Joel Edgerton 
Distributed by STX Entertainment and Showtime Networks 

German director Christian Petzold’s new film, Phoenix, begins with a perfectly dark screen, while on the soundtrack a bass fiddle accompanied by a piano plays Kurt Weill’s hauntingly romantic melody “Speak Low,” which with Ogden Nash’s lyrics became the principal song in their 1943 musical comedy collaboration One Touch of Venus.  I found this exceedingly strange since I knew the film would deal with the grimmest of subjects: the trials of a terribly wounded Jewish woman in 1945 who has survived, barely, her Auschwitz imprisonment.  How could the Weill/Nash song comport with such material?  As it turns out, in Petzold’s hands it does brilliantly.  The woman is Nelly (Nina Hoss, exquisitely lovely and thoroughly convincing), whose face has been shattered by a Nazi bullet and is about to undergo reconstruction.  The plastic surgeon she goes to shows her photographs of popular film actresses and asks her to choose the one she’d...

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