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A watery legend becomes startlingly real in Christian Petzold’s latest offering, Undine.
The film follows its titular heroine and historian (Paula Beer), who is left crushed when her cold married lover Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) abruptly ends their relationship just before Undine has an important work meeting at a Berlin museum.
Asking him to meet her afterwards so they can talk things through and reconcile – ominously warned by her to be needed to prevent his death – she returns to work.
Leaving work to meet him at their café spot, however, leads to an encounter with one of the museum visitors, a deep water industrial diver named Christoph (Franz Rogowski) and so begins a powerful romance.
However, when secrets from the past emerge and threaten this new love in her life, Undine’s story takes an unexpected turn.
Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski star in fantastical romance Undine
(Image: Christian Schulz/Schramm Film/Curzon)
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Taking fantastical elements legends of the titular watery fay figures, Petzold primarily grounds this suspenseful drama in the nature of the powerful connection between its heroine and her new love. The gorgeous camera work from Hans Fromm also veers between both realism and dreamlike visuals.
Reuniting with Petzold are his Transit stars Beer and Rogowski who bring a sensual yet innocent chemistry to the two lovers.
Beer offers a constrained heartache and mystery to Undine, while Petzold also spends lengthy sequences with her in her professional life to craft an intelligent and thoughtful character who is entrenched in the history of Berlin and the water that flows through it.
Paula Beer plays the mythologically named historian Undine in Christian Petzold's new film
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Meanwhile, Rogowski delivers a quiet charisma to Christoph, bringing a naturalistic sensitivity to the film's more emotionally-wrought segments.
The film takes a turn into a darker and more unpredictable place when Undine is confronted with her past love for Johannes, sparking a new and ethereal conflict within her relationship with Christoph.
This may be where some audience members feel alienated as events take a brutal turn, but for those who feel soothed into accepting the more outlandish elements of the story will be happy to make this transition in tone.
Franz Rogowski plays Undine's new love who feels threatened by her past
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Ultimately, Christian Petzold has crafted an enigmatic and often hypnotic modern fairy tale with elements that will stay with you for quite some time after it ends.
Undine is a cryptic modern fairy tale from director Christian Petzold that boasts some beautifully restrained performances from Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski.
Undine is being shown in BFI London Film Festival 2020 and is coming soon to UK cinemas.