After her return from the death camps, why do people want to own and exploit her?
Germany / 98 minutes / color / Schramm Film Koerner & Weber, Tempus, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, arte, Piffi Dir: Christian Petzold Pr: Florian Koerner von Gustorf, Michael Weber Scr: Christian Petzold, Harun Farocki Story: Le Retour des Cendres (1961) by Hubert Monteilhet Cine: Hans Fromm Cast: Nina Hoss, Ronald Zehrfeld, Nina Kunzendorf, Michael Maertens, Imogen Kogge, Valerie Koch, Eva Bay, Megan Gay, Frank Seppeler, Daniela Holtz, Kathrin Wehlisch, Michael Wenninger, Claudia Geisler-Bading.
This is the third screen adaptation of Monteilhet’s novel; the first was J. Lee Thompson’s Return from the Ashes (1965), which I discussed here a few days ago. If you watch the two movies back to back, as I did, it’s blatant that they’re both based on the same work; but at the same time there are so many differences—the two are faithful and unfaithful to the novel in certain but different ways, while in many respects they’re poles apart in terms of “feel” and subtext—that really it makes sense to treat them as independent of each other. (The second screen adaptation, which I haven’t seen, was Le Retour d’Élisabeth Wolff [1982 TVM] dir Josée Dayan, with Malka Ribowska, Niels Arestrup, Clémentine Amouroux and Roland Bertin.)
In order to discuss this movie meaningfully, I’m going to have to talk about its ending. To be honest, it’s not one of those movies where a spoiler’s going to destroy your enjoyment—it’s a very satisfying tale even if you know what’s going to happen—but you’ve been warned. (Besides, I’ve missed out various of the other major plot turns.)
It’s 1945 and onetime Berlin cabaret singer Nelly Lenz (Hoss), hideously facially disfigured after a year in Auschwitz, is brought back into the city’s US sector by her old friend Lene Winter (Kunzendorf), who’s part of the Jewish committee clearing up the postwar mess.
Lene (Nina Kunzendorf, foreground) introduces Nelly (Nina Hoss) to the wreckage that was once her home.
Lene seems to have taken it upon herself to control every aspect of Nelly’s life. She arranges for Nelly to have reconstructive facial surgery at the hands of plastic surgeon Dr. Arzt (Maertens)—Nelly shows a first sign of rebellion here, insisting that he attempt to restore Continue reading