LFF 2020: Undine – Review

Release Date – TBC, Cert – N/A, Run-time – 1 hour 30 minutes, Director – Christian Petzold

Undine (Paula Beer) works as a history lecturer in Berlin, after finding new love it appears that a mysterious secret of hers is gradually being revealed.

If there’s one thing Undine (Paula Beer) is serious about it’s her romantic life. In the opening scene we see the final moments of her relationship with boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz). She wants to give him a final chance, essentially giving him the offer of relationship or death, however behind her stony expression emotion begins to break through. Much like her sadness in this moment Undine appears to be hiding something else about herself, something that she’s never properly shown anybody. Perhaps this break-up will finally allow her secret to emerge. It certainly seems as if this is the case, and quickly new-found love with diver Christoph (Franz Rogowski) is further allowing for this to happen.

As the relationship blossoms the pair seem to share a love of the underwater world. Frequently going diving in nearby areas to the dark green depths where time almost seems to stop. During such points writer-director Christian Petzold makes it seem as if the lovers are in a completely different, almost mythical, world, simply them and the occasional breath and bubble around them. However, Beer’s performance consistently reminds us that she’s hiding something. Even when her character finds herself working, lecturing about the urban development of Berlin, her performance continues to convey the idea that there is something else on her mind.

For the most part such ideas lie in the background as the relationship between Undine and Christoph is explored. The bond that they grow simply adds to the mystery as the audience is occasionally put in Christoph’s shoes wondering about some of the strange characteristics and disappearances of Undine. The fact that the two often meet at the café in which the title character’s previous relationship ended not long before occasionally brings about the thought that this one might end just as quickly, but under different circumstances.

Petzold explores a number of his themes, particularly in the second half, with the style of a thriller, while never actually entering the feeling of the genre. It simply helps to build up more mystery around the central character. Preparing the viewer for a number of, sometimes shocking, twists and turns in the second half, particularly the final half hour, of the piece. Such elements stop things from feeling like a standard middle-of-the-road romantic drama simply looking at new love while somehow reflecting on previous relationships. Such elements are still in place, and do take up some of the lengthier scenes and ideas, however the slightly more fantastical and mysterious elements of the character tend to break through. They lift the film up that bit more and push it slightly further, bringing the viewer in to feel more engagement with the film. By the end an interesting drama with its twists, turns and mysterious fantasies unfolds for a worthwhile final half hour of equal measure.

A romantic drama with occasional thriller tones Undine avoids feeling like a standard by-the-numbers drama thanks to its infrequent delves into mystery, fantasy and the potential hidden life, secrets and feelings of Paula Beer’s title character.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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