Undine opens with a painful breakup. Well, maybe not so painful as inevitable. For, those born to live in the water must be prepared to sink. According to mythology, Undine is an underwater creature that comes to earth to be loved and then goes back to its watery grave.
Water and the ocean play a big part in Undine. With such an aqueous expanse at its disposal can the film find space for the heroine’s tears during the breakup? It is a dry-eyed breakup, sardonic in the mood with dark undertones as Undine says to her unfaithful boyfriend, “If you leave me I’ll have to kill you.”
That, it turns out, is no empty boast. Undine played by the well-known German actress Paul Beer, is a very strange woman. She belongs in the water but also fears it. Very soon after the breakup with Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), she meets Christoph (Franz Rogowski) in a pet shop where she saves his life when the overhead fish tank comes crashing down. That soggy saga again!
Water is both threatening and life-giving, nurturing and vitiating in this exotic, enigmatic and ultimately inaccessible romp into the supernatural underbelly of love. It is not a likeable film. I don’t think we are supposed to like a film that feeds on the idea of love, even while fuelling its toxic side-effects, all the while masquerading as modern mythology.
Nothing in the film appears mythic, least of all Paula Beer’s Undine. The actress lacks the classic look needed to make the mythological undercurrents come alive. It’s a pleasant comic face and I very often waited for her to drop her grave demeanour and burst out laughing.
There isn’t much humour in the goings-on. Not in the way Undine spurns her replacement lover Christoph’s devotion, almost as if she doesn’t want love to conquer her destiny of a watery grave. She is finally just a vengeful woman who sinks into the deep ocean while diving into her inner darkness. Setting aside all pretensions to profundity Undine is finally as soggy as the environment it embraces.
Directed by Christian Petzold, Undine gets 2 stars.
Image source: IMDb
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