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This evocative and haunting drama, set in a rubble-strewn Berlin in 1945, is like no other film about post–World War II Jewish identity. After surviving Auschwitz, a former cabaret singer (Nina Hoss, in a dazzling, multilayered performance), her face disfigured and reconstructed, returns to her war-ravaged hometown to seek out the gentile husband who may or may not have betrayed her to the Nazis. Without recognizing her, he enlists her to play his wife in a bizarre hall-of-shattered-mirrors story that’s as richly metaphorical as it is preposterously engrossing. Revenge film or tale of romantic reconciliation? One doesn’t know until the superb closing scene of this marvel from Christian Petzold, perhaps the most important figure in contemporary German cinema.

Picture 10/10

Christian Petzold’s Phoenix comes to Blu-ray from Criterion, presenting the film in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc. The high-definition, 1080p/24hz presentation comes from a 2K scan of the original 35mm negative.

The notes on the transfer are pretty sparse so I’m going to take a guess Criterion didn’t actually have much to do with it. Still, despite whoever did the transfer, it’s a very nice looking one. This isn’t too big of a surprise since the film is so new (it was released in 2014) so I wouldn’t expect too many problems. Details are sharp, textures look natural, and depth is excellent. The film’s colour scheme leans more towards an autumn palette for a good chunk of the film, but the colours offer excellent saturation and still manage to pop off of the screen. A few reds, found in a dress and in the lighting of the night club settings, look particularly great and are rendered cleanly. Black levels are strong, and the darker scenes deliver details in the shadows.

It was shot on film and not through digital (as director of photography Hans Fromm points out in the special features) but there isn’t any damage to speak of, though again, considering how new the film is, this isn’t all that surprising. The digital presentation itself is also very strong, handling the film’s very fine grain structure rather well and managing to stay clean, completely free of noise and compression problems. It looks very good, pretty much what one would hope for a newer film.

Audio 9/10

Presented in 5.1 DTS-HD MA, the film’s German surround track is a rather active one. Spoken lines remain primarily situated in the fronts, while music is seamlessly mixed throughout all of the channels, with a nice bit of bass to cap things off. The sound effects are also wonderfully mixed here, working to place the viewer in the middle of a setting, whether it be in the middle of a fairly rowdy club, out in nature, on the town, at the train station, or even in a closed off room. These effects, ranging from chirps to loud club music to a breeze and so on, nicely move around and sound completely natural. It’s an effectively mixed track, with ample range and clarity. Nicely done.

Extras 5/10

The supplements are disappointingly slim. I sort of expect this with newer titles I guess, but after strong releases like Two Days, One Night and then the exceptional edition Criterion put out for Inside Llewyn Davis, it’s easy to see that insightful and hearty special feature can be put together for newer films and that only makes releases like this all the more disappointing.

Criterion provides a couple of interviews: a 26-minute discussion with director Christian Petzold and actress Nina Hoss, along with a 13-minute interview with director of photography Hans Fromm. Petzold and Hoss talk about their working relationship through the years, specifically how Petzold directs her (for one he’ll usually just explain what a scene means but not how to do it), and then the two talk about specific moments in the film, where, surprisingly, things were decided on the spot (it almost sounds like the final shots were made up on the spot).

Fromm also talks about his work with Petzold but gets a bit more technical as he explains how the film was shot. He talks about his style, taking influences from other films, though trying not to “quote” them, and explains the lighting of the film, going for an expressionist feel. He also laments on the general move of filmmaking to digital (Phoenix was still shot on 35mm film).

Both interviews are insightful in their own right, and I rather enjoyed Fromm’s discussion, though neither make up much for the lack of anything else about Petzold’s work or the lack of a critical look at the film, and the same can be said of the making of documentary also included here. Featuring interviews with Petzold, Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, and Nina Kunzendorf, it does offer a look at the film’s production and the recreation of the time period, including the bombed out areas, which we get to see constructed here, and the difficulty in doing so: surprisingly (or maybe not) the period in Germany right after the war proved difficult to research, at least in terms of day-to-day life. Because of this, it appears, Roberto Rossellini’s Germany Year Zero was a fairly big influence and Petzold talks a little about that, even sharing stories about his father (it was the one film both he and his father loved). It’s a decent making-of, providing a lot of detail about recreating the period and it does offer insights from the participants about the characters and the themes of identity found in the film. It also runs a fairly breezy 21-minutes.

The disc then closes with the film’s American trailer.

Considering this is Criterion’s first Petzold title I guess I would have expected more about his work and/or background, but alas, we’re limited to what little there is in his interview. Michael Koresky (Criterion’s go-to guy for most of the essays in their Eclipse sets) fills in some of the academic gap here with his essay found in the insert, covering the film, Petzold, and the Berlin School movement. The essays an excellent read at least, and the supplements we do get are interesting enough, but there isn’t a lot of meat here.


The presentation is great and the supplements we do get are at least worth going through, so on those grounds the release gets a recommendation, but it still leaves a bit to be desired and feels a little like an afterthought.


Directed by: Christian Petzold
Year: 2014
Time: 98 min.
Series: The Criterion Collection
Edition #: 809
Licensor: Sundance Selects
Release Date: April 26 2016
MSRP: $39.95
1 Disc | BD-50
2.35:1 ratio
German 5.1 DTS-HD MA Surround
Subtitles: English
Region A
 New conversation between director Christian Petzold and actor Nina Hoss   New interview with cinematographer Hans Fromm   New documentary featuring on-set interviews from 2013 with Christian Petzold, Nina Hoss, actors Nina Kunzendorf and Ronald Zehrfeld, and production designer Kade Gruber   Trailer   An essay by critic Michael Koresky