Christian Petzold’s romantic drama probes the depths of European myth TheWrap

Undine (Paula Beer) is a freelance urban development expert who regularly lectures on Berlin’s architecture and its relationship to this city’s troubled past. She also has a secret: she is the Undine of European myth, a mermaid-water spirit whose own problem necessarily involves facilitating the death of any man who betrays her love. In “Undine”, the latest from famous German director Christian Petzold (“Phoenix”, “Transit”), this gendered myth and the historic collective trauma of Berlin become inextricably linked in mutual grief.

We meet Ondine as she confronts one of these men, Johannes (Jacob Matschenz). He is breaking up with her and would like a clean exit. In tears, she informs him that he has to die in a very sorry way, I don’t make the rules. He walks away, never having believed his story. But before Ondine can complete his mythologically related task, Christoph (Franz Rogowski) steps in, flirting.

He is an industrial diver who repairs corroded underwater turbines, his affinity for his craft is such that he single-handedly manages to attract to his side a 6-foot-long urban legend of a catfish while he ‘he unites broken mechanisms. Ondine gives lectures on the past and the current crossroads of Berlin; Christoph conscientiously helps make everything work, underwater where no one can see his work.

So that’s kind of a fate, then, when the first moments of Ondine and Christoph’s first meeting involve an accidentally smashed coffee aquarium, mutual soaking, shattered glass, blood, and an enraged waiter calling them ” stupid holes ”. It immediately turns into love, of course – an epic rebound.

During one of Ondine’s lectures, the name of Berlin is explained as a dry place built on a swamp. It is a place destroyed by war, later divided by the fractured identity of Germany, and ultimately restored with new tensions resulting from its own collective mythologies and a desire to break away from them. Not at all separate from this, Ondine and Christoph’s love story encompasses moments of CPR techniques, the song “Staying Alive”, underwater clues to Ondine’s true nature, more broken glass. and a statue of Poseidon included in a scene without commentary. Their bond built on broken beginnings and their mutual need to rewrite what seems to be inevitable fate forms a loop of action and anxiety.

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Beer and Rogowski (the stars of Petzold’s “Transit”) are perfectly interpreted as romantic protagonists whose faces contain both heartache and intense love. Everything is tempered by the awareness of the supernatural forces around them and the empty center of where they dwell, but they physically swoon for each other as they carry the burden and fight to keep it at bay. distance.

Petzold extracts the story here as well. The 2008 filmmaker’s drama “Jerichow” loosely referred to James M. Cain’s novel “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” and vintage noir Hollywood is never far from its aesthetic practice. Without imitating, Petzold transports the darkness of Berlin to the present moment, inventing new ways to link his characters to the fundamental struggle of the past. His color palette here is a twilight of grays, blues, and greens, and the straightforward, lifelike compositions of cinematographer Hans Fromm (a frequent collaborator of Petzold) blend the fantastical elements into a sort of pinch-less gaze. to laugh.

And tomorrow the whole world

At the same time, the filmmaker appears as the bearer of the same romantic aspiration as his characters, using a Bach piano concerto as a love theme, indulging in their urgent need to walk along the trains leaving the stations. He is not there to play or crush his characters. He loves their pleading and worshiping faces, and he’s on their side, even if things don’t go as planned.

Hearts literally skip beats here. Lovers walk arm in arm in a way that rational people know is by no means comfortable, two bodies moving and supporting each other for no other valid reason than to keep touching each other. In times of distress, one of them wanders the city in search of the other. And when tragedy strikes, more everyday tragedies of modern existence are alive within it. “Undine” allows for the magical while keeping its eyes firmly fixed on the painful real, making a valiant and wholehearted attempt to break the bonds of history.

“Undine” opens in select theaters and On Demand June 4th.

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