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Undine (2021) – Review: Director Christian Petzold Has Crafted Another Excellent Non-Traditional Romance

August 22, 2021

Quick Thoughts – Grade – AUndine puts a sensitive and thoughtful spin on Undine mythology. Director Christian Petzold (Phoenix – watch it) has crafted another solid film that features an award winning performance from Paula Beer (Silver Bear for Best Actress at the 70th Berlin International Film Festival).

Between Phoenix and Transit, director Christian Petzold is no stranger to complicated relationships that play out in unexpected ways. Undine is no different, as it tells the story of Undine (Paula Beers), an elemental water nymph, who lives in Berlin, and is put in a terrible situation when her boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) breaks up with her, and then she meets a kind hearted and innocent man named Christoph (Franz Rogowski). During the breakup with Johannes, she tells him that she will have to kill him, but after meeting Christoph (who accidentally causes a fish tank to shatter), she lets Johannes off the hook, and starts a loving and likable relationship with Christoph, an underwater diver who makes money welding and fixing turbines. From there, the two have a mellow relationship that involves large catfish, trains, and red wine. 

Petzold liked working with Beers and Rogowski so much on Transit, that he lied and told them he had written a movie with them in mind. Of course, he hadn’t written a script, so he knocked out Undine in six weeks, and gave Beers the hero role, and Rogowski the “love interest” role (a flip from Transit). The end result is another beautiful story of hidden identity, loss and heartbreak. The cinematography by Hans Froom (Phoenix, Transit) is solid as always, as he relies on long static shots, handheld camera work, and excellent underwater photography to give the love story varied looks. While watching Undine, it makes you wish that American films would have the confidence to linger on shots for a little too long, or let the characters be surrounded by silence. 

It’s a bit difficult to write about Undine because it’s fueled by wordless moments that showcase the skills of Beers and Rogowski, who carry many quiet scenes with ease. Their chemistry is exceptional, and you can almost feel their love coming through the screen, which shouldn’t be a surprise considering the performances in Phoenix and Transit (the final moments of Phoenix still break my heart). If you can embrace the non-traditional narratiive, you will love this film. 

Final thoughts – Watch Undine, then check out Phoenix, Transit and Barbara.

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