From Christian Petzold (“Transit”) comes an interpretation of the siren myth. Though the story has fairy tale aspects, it is by no means light or happy. The film “Undine” is odd, dark and somewhat opaque. But the film’s weirdness is its strength.
Undine (Paula Beer) is an historian giving lectures for international students of Berlin architecture. During a coffee break, her boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) tells her his feelings have changed and a relationship can’t work.
Undine is devastated. She declares that she must kill him. After much deflection, Johannes nods his head and distractedly smiles tightly. Undine states that she will give him thirty minutes to reverse his decision.
Undine returns to the cafe in the hopes of finding Johannes, but there is a nervous and charming Christoph (Franz Rogowski) in his place, who knocks over some shelving which causes the aquarium to explode.
The two fall to the floor as if charmed, drenched in water and unconditional love-lust. They can’t keep their eyes off of each other. But all may not be as it seems. Christoph becomes more and more drawn to diving and fixing broken machinery underwater and Undine has to give an unforeseen lecture.
Christoph has a freak accident. Is there something supernatural to blame or is the distance and attraction between the off center pair due to the pushes and pulls of personality under the stress of romance? Depending on your point of reference either case can be made. Paula Beer is captivating and mercurial, at times icy, at others affectionate, comic and warm, just as one might picture a siren lost in her emotional storm. Rogowski is equally terrific, vulnerable and empathetic. The actor perfectly handles the aspects of love’s fickle condition.
Whenever Christoph encounters the lake, it seems an entrance into melancholy. Once he catches a whiff of salty perfume or hears the vowel sounds in the name of ‘Undine’, he is never quite the same.
The enunciation of those six letters drive men mad.
“Undine” is based on a German tale of guilt and haunted love that many writers and artists have portrayed both directly and loosely) from Hans Christian Andersen to Andy Warhol’s “The Loves of Ondine.”
This version is moody and vexing with no easy answer but it is absolutely compelling.
Write Ian at email@example.com