Undine’s (Paula Beer) world feels as if it’s coming apart when her boyfriend ends their relationship. This is more than the end for her. But as soon as one love ends, another enters her life, in the most dramatic of ways. Christoph (Franz Rogowski) is kind, loving and gentle, completely different to the relationship before. Both swept off each other’s feet by this whirlwind romance, neither sees the dangers of the water coming. After a sudden tragic and fatal accident almost takes everything away from Undine, she has to decide what to do; face her true nature and the real consequences of her actions.
At first this seems like a romantic story about finding love where you least expect it. But the fairytale elements and the supernatural tone are so weaved together that the film altogether feels like a mixture of genres. Water plays an important part of the story, as well as the figurine of the deep-sea diver being a symbol for connection. Despite being hinted at throughout and being named after the mythical creatures, Undine’s origins are never truly revealed on screen. Her past is never discussed, it’s as if she appeared one day and we are left to draw our own conclusions and speculate how she came to be where she was at the start of the film. Not exploring these folklore details might feel like a missed opportunity but for what director Christian Petzold lacks in story, he makes up for in atmosphere. Throughout the film, despite being gentle and serine on the surface, there is bubbling undertone of something more sinister and violent. When Undine is confronted with the ending of her relationship at the start, she says “If you leave me, I’ll have to kill you”, a threat that does resurface towards the end. This mysterious feeling that something isn’t quite right with Undine and her relationship with water is teased throughout, so when you aren’t distracted by the sweet romance, you have the creeping suspicion that something strange will happen at any moment.
Director and writer Christian Petzold’s previous films have usually been inspired by or adapted from novels and plays, so inspiration from a fairy tale seems like a logical step for his next outing. The casting of the two leads from his last film Transit, Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, is an excellent choice. These two actors have effortless chemistry, it’s very easy to believe these two fell in love and near first sight. There are times when they share the screen that it feels as if we are intruding on their time together.
The story relies heavily on the two leads and their scenes together, as the plot itself is rather thin and doesn’t really ramp up to a finale or climactic moment. Rather than a slow burn thriller, or a slow moving romance, it’s the elements in-between what’s happening that are key to trying to unlock the mystery of Undine, which may not be as satisfying a watch for everyone.
Undine is released on 2nd April