Nelly Lenz (Nina Hoss) is a concentration camp survivor whose face has nearly been destroyed by beatings she received at the camp. She had previously been a pretty and talented nightclub singer before the Nazis started rounding up the Jews. Nelly was married to ‘Johnny’ (Ronald Zehrfeld), a pianist who accompanied her at the clubs. She was partly Jewish, while he was not. To avoid capture, Nelly needed to go into hiding, but she was eventually discovered and transported to the camp.
After Nelly’s arrival in bombed-out Berlin shortly after the war ends, her face gets reconstructed. After the surgery, she looks similar, but not exactly like the way she did before. She is hoping to find and re-unite with Johnny, whom she still loves. Johnny, however, may have betrayed her by revealing her hiding place to the SS. (Nelly has only learned about this possibility after her return to Berlin.) She desperately doesn’t want to believe this could be the case. (Her fervent hope to be with Johnny again was a very important psychological factor in her will to live at the camp.)
Nelly seeks out Johnny and finds him performing a menial job at Phoenix, a Berlin nightclub that is miraculously still in business. Johnny thinks Nelly is dead, although there is no proof. Since the woman who introduces herself to him looks very similar to his memory of Nelly, he recruits her in a plot. He proposes that she pretend that she is the actual Nelly, so they can split half of her considerable estate. This film is, in part, a “dead serious” altered version of Pygmalion, with Johnny (the would-be Henry Higgens) coaching this new woman how to look and act like the actual Nelly, so the imitation Nelly (as of Eliza Doolittle) can fool the surviving relatives. ( I would not, however, hold my breath for the musical version to be released!)
This film raises fascinating questions about “adaptive denial,” the power of hope, and what happens when an unimaginably horrible reality becomes too powerful for these psychic forces to overcome.
The film is written and directed by Christain Petzold, who has crafted a Must-See film, especially for Jews! Nina Hoss gives an AWW performance.
The film will work fine as a rental, but it’s worth a trip to the BS ASAP!