Written by: Christian Petzold
Starring: Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Jacob Matschenz, Maryam Zaree
Severed relationships leave such an impact in the immediate as their freshness brings much of the pain, but even in the long run, it can leave such an effect on the separated individuals. Undine looks at this harsh consequence through the use of a mystical figure and how it factors into the relationships of a particular woman.
Working as a tour guide regarding urban development in Berlin, Undine (Paula Beer) has a relationship that ends, which appears to be the end of the world until she meets the charismatic Christoph (Franz Rogowski). Their long-distance relationship comes with plenty of passion but the remnants of Undine’s past relationship seemingly will not let the serenity remain.
Getting a new Christian Petzold film starring both Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski should always be cause for celebration considering the track record this trio has amassed with their collaborations. Simply experiencing Transit will do enough to make you swoon for more between these artists and while we receive some of what makes them great together, the narrative of this feature leaves plenty lacking. Integral to fully understanding the broad strokes of this feature is the tale of Undine, however, without the context, much of this film leads to outright confusion in trying to piece everything together.
One thing it absolutely nails comes from the emotional turmoil that can occur after losing the person they believed to be the love of their lives. A blistering fire that rapidly gets extinguished only leaves the cold. This devastation follows Undine throughout the entire feature even when she seemingly meets someone who could help her move along. However, to be fair, she threatened to kill her ex should he leave her. Making a threat to this level definitely demonstrates it would take plenty for her to completely move on.
As the film progresses, it focuses much of its storytelling on the symbolism involved to the point where it becomes unclear whether or not what we see is actually transpiring. Whether it be the diver seeing Big Gunther or the more radical decisions taken on by Undine as her desperation grows. This particular symbolism aligns relatively well with the legend inspiring the construction of this story, but this gap exists that never lets this fully connect overall. In a sense, it makes the narrative feel emotionally stale in the way it handles everything. This presumption of needing to know this tale, as a result, takes away from the impact of this film as a whole, unfortunately.
On a visual level, Christian Petzold continues to demonstrate his stunning ability by helping craft some stunning sequences. Whether it be the shattering of the aquarium within the cafe or underwater sequences propelling the moments within the feature, all of it looks stunning. Even moments like the one captured on the poster carry such striking imagery in relation to what it means within the narrative. In their own separate vacuums, they all leave their indelible mark on the feature, but when put together it just does not hold up as much as would be expected from someone so incredibly talented.
With Franz Rogowski getting more of the spotlight to lead in the aforementioned Petzold film above, Paula Beer gets the opportunity to shine here. She certainly takes the opportunity here and runs with it. Needing to establish and display a whole host of emotions as the character of Undine required plenty. Channeling the heartbreak and rejuvenation of the beating heart of this woman takes some talent and she definitely stepped up to the plate to deliver. This, obviously, comes to no surprise judging by her track record, particularly with Petzold but sometimes you just need a reminder, which evidently becomes the case here.
While working well in different segments, Undine proves to be better than the sum of its parts. Seen as a whole there are several glaring holes that do not allow it to reach the full potential laid out from the very onset of this project. There still remains plenty to appreciate as the film goes along with the acting and the striking imagery on display, but as a whole, I remain someone who needs a strong narrative in order to remain engaged and this film failed to deliver in that regard.