There is something romantic about the water, being submerged and feeling as light as air. But when the water becomes the source of our pain and fear, we dare not go back. Water plays an integral part in writer/director Christian Petzold’s modern twist on the folklore tale about a water sprite who must fall in love with a human to gain a soul and be allowed to walk on land. Intertwining the thin lines between supernatural, fable, and an elegant, bittersweet love story, Undine takes us into the depths of a heart-breaking romance.
Just as her boyfriend ends their relationship, Undine feels as if her world has ended but no sooner as one loves leaves, another enters her life in the most dramatic way. Christoph is kind, gentle and loving, something she thought she had before but never did. They are swept up in a whirlwind romance until a tragic accident threatens to take it all away. Now Undine must face her true nature and the real consequences of her actions.
Not all romances are over complicated, sonnet reciting vast landscapes and dramatic music, some are quiet, delicate and have a dark tone that you don’t quite understand until it’s too late. Undine essentially has very little plot to it but therefore is just feast for the eyes in terms of the chemistry between the two leads, Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, who compliment and match each other to the point you feel as if you’re intruding on their shared moments. The mysterious nature of Undine is really the key to the story, even though we are outright told exactly what she will do, with little more than a mildly delivered threat, there is still something so sinister about the meaning, it’s almost a delight when it is acted upon. The slow-moving pace of the story makes you feel at ease and lulls you into a false sense of security, making Christoph’s accident all the more heart-breaking but this is where the story kicks into a different gear, moving into the supernatural realm.
Beginning at the end, the film cleverly skips past the part of the story that we’ve all seen before. The relationship that was meant to be the be-all and end-all but in fact, it was just another man who was unfaithful. Except this time, the threat ‘If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you’ is real. Undine’s folklore and myth origins are never truly revealed or explored, much of her past is left to the imagination and by the end, we are expected to draw our own conclusions about where she came from, how she came to be where she is at the start of the film. Her mystery lingers, even in the last few moments, we are left with a hole in our heart at what might have been and where she will end up next.
Dir: Christian Petzold
Scr: Christian Petzold
DoP: Hans Fromm
Country: Germany, France
Running time: 90 minutes