By Sascha Krieger
Undine (Competition / Germany, France / Director: Christian Petzold)
„If you leave now, I’ll have to kill you“, she says. Johannes has just broken up with her but Undine won’t accept it. Paula Beer is looking at him in the half-absent, half-defiant way she’ll only lose shortly when accepting her love with Christoph (Franz Rogowski), an industrial diver she meets just after being abandoned by his predecessor. Undine will make good on her promise, becoming her namesake, a mythical water nymph, popularised during Romanticism. Water plays a pivotal part in Christian Petzold’s new film. It explodes, saves, kills, shelters. It has a hazy, darkly greenish colour to which the film succumbs at its very end. It contrasts with the crisp, cold clean colour scheme of reality, a reality – shot as always with Petzold in rigid, calm, uncompromisingly formal frames, a cold, antiseptic reality unlike the murky waters of love to which Undine belongs. Beer always looks a little out of place in this modern world here, only acquiring that look of quiet confidence when she’s in her element. The realism gives way to, squabbles with, gets mixed up in surrealist moments, an exploding aquarium, a giant catfish, Undine becoming the nymph. Driven by a Bach piano piece giving it a more fairy-tale atmosphere, Undine is a stark, poetic, rough-edged, yet – even though just in short, precious moments – surprisingly warm and tender tale on the traps of love, the impossibility and necessity to let go, the choices we make for love and for life. Undine’s relentlessness, her absolute loving isn’t for this world, Christoph’s gentle warmth is, or just might be. While the film at times tends to tilt a little towards the obvious, it delivers the somewhat surreal, fantastic and frightening extension of reality so typical of Petzold’s work. It offers chances and risks. None can be had without the other.