BERLINALE 2020: UNDINE BY CHRISTIAN PETZOLD

This entry was posted on February 28th, 2020

By Mónica Delgado

Romance understood as a fortuitous and tragic fact is the motif behind several films by Christian Petzold. In Transit, for example, the same protagonists of Undine (the magnificent pair of Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski) are submitted to destines indifference, where sublimation in times of war is impossible. Or like in Jerichow, where sexual attraction is the path to hell. Instead, in Undine, with a bit more complacent tone, without the stylistic bets of his previous works, the context doesn’t matter much; instead the filmmaker is focused in offering a romantic tale in every sense, which includes mythical beings and love sacrifices.

Petzold re-actualizes the Germanic/Scandinavian myth of Odine, one of the nymphs or naiads of sweet waters, who feels in a bewitching for love. Undine starts very well, focusing in the tale of the typical hysterical woman, a necessary stereotype in love tragedies, which in hands of the filmmaker appears to affirm the existence of love beyond death. Undine (Paula Beer) threatens an indifferent lover who wants to leave her, an it’s in this context that a scuba-diver appears (Franz Rogowski), whom she fell in love instantly after an incident in a cafeteria. The truthfulness that Petzold proposes is surrounded by the limits of romantic love archetypes, of its sublimation due to these nineteenth century representations. A hero and perfect stud, and a woman delivered to that intuition, to leave a toxic love behind. And it’s in these first minutes that the German filmmaker manages to pose this universe of correspondences with ability (like the magnificent scene in the fishbowl). However, some twists of the script, which takes elements from the love thriller, end up dulling the high points of the film.

Some elements that seem to have been added non-arbitrarily at the beginning are missed, like the role of Undine as a historian who narrates passages of the urban and architectonic reconstruction of a Germany that also went through several tragic historical events. But this contextualization is left floating in the end, without justifying its inclusion in the story of these two characters. In the other hand, this presence of Petzold in the international competition of Berlinale, seems irregular in comparison to other more rounded works. Despite having some good scenes, of connection between the two characters, the stumbles seem to be heavier, so much that the myth tastes of commonplace.

Official Competition
Directing, script: Christian Petzold
Cinematography: Hans Fromm
Cast: Paula Beer, Franz Rogowski, Maryam Zaree, Jacob Matschenz
Production company: Schramm Film / Les Films du Losange / ZDF / Arte / arte France Cinéma / Canal+ / Ciné+