Review by Camden Ferrell
Undine is the newest film from acclaimed German director Christian Petzold. Premiering at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival, this movie attempts to blend German mythology with a contemporary drama. Despite its unique premise and often pleasing cinematography, the film can often meander through its story.
Undine is a historian on Berlin’s urban development, and she is equal parts graceful and intelligent. However, when her lover leaves her, she sees her world come apart. She must kill him and return home to the water. This premise is based in German fantasy and myth, and it serves as a good basis for the film.
The film has a lot of promise in the lore from which it’s drawing, but Petzold’s script can often be lackluster. There are a handful of good scenes of dialogue, but as a whole, it isn’t quite as captivating as its enigmatic lead deserves. It isn’t bad, but the writing doesn’t nearly develop its story as well as it could have.
Led by Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, the acting in this film is above average but not entirely memorable. Beer gives a strong performance as the titular character and captures her grace in an effective manner. Rogowski mostly plays off of Beer, but he does have some great chemistry with her throughout. Even though both give fairly strong performances, it simultaneously doesn’t feel particularly impressive.
While the film never explicitly tells us she’s a water nymph, it is very much implied through other means. I think Petzold’s decision to be subtle about its fairytale origins is strong, and it shows a certain level of trust in the audience’s intelligence. I think one of the strongest aspects of the film was the story it was able to tell without the need for excessive exposition.
The cinematography is also quite pretty as well. It captures scenes in visually pleasing manners without being flashy or drawing too much attention to itself. It is somber in how it tells the story of a woman whose life goes through drastic changes, and it helps elevate some of the more tepid scenes that are scattered throughout the movie.
Even though it benefits from its premise, cinematography, and acting, the film feels too unevenly paced for its brief ninety minutes. Many of its scenes aren’t the most captivating, and there is an apparent discrepancy in the quality of scenes throughout. There is a lot working in this movie’s favor, but it unfortunately lacks narrative cohesion and execution.
Undine may not be quite as endearing as the myth on which it’s based, but it may still be of interest to some. It features strong performances and captivating visuals, but it fails to fully indulge in the wonders of its premise.
Undine is in select theaters and VOD on June 4.
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