Young German director Christian Petzold (Jerichow, Barbara) has come out with another acclaimed film, starring Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld, that explores a highly charged story set in the ruins of Berlin, 1945. Two Kurt Weill songs, “Speak Low” (from One Touch of Venus, 1943) and “Berlin im Licht” (1928) form part of the soundtrack. In at least one portion of the film, “Speak Low” is heard sung in Weill’s own voice, from a demo recording he made before the opening of Venus on Broadway.
Nelly (Hoss), a Jewish German woman, survives Auschwitz but is shot in the face as she escapes. Enough money remains from her family fortune to allow her to have reconstructive surgery, which changes her appearance. Then she returns to Berlin to seek out her husband Johnny (Zehrfeld). She finds him, but he does not recognize her. The plot really gets going from there. Set in the ruins of Berlin, the film takes on Germany’s Nazi past at the same time that it delves into complicated questions of fidelity and personal identity.
The film has earned rave reviews at film festivals in Toronto and San Sebastian, and it just opened the Festival du Cinéma Allemand in Paris. Variety called it “one of the most anticipated German titles of the year.” Now it is showing all over Germany, with distribution deals in place for numerous other countries. Petzold continues to make a name for himself with another thoughtful yet hard-hitting film. Weill’s songs do more than contribute a sense of period. “Speak Low,” with its wistful evocation of love’s tenacity but also its fleeting nature, plays over decisive moments in the action.
Discussion of the film and its reception on Fandor.com
Interview with Nina Hoss in the New York Times
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (video, in German)