This captivating tale of fated lovers, drawing on myth and fantasy, is also a love song to Berlin.
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German auteur Christian Petzold is a master in the art of tightening an invisible grip on his characters; they can appear as though becalmed, between worlds, stranded and hovering in a transitory state due to circumstance, fate or personality – and not always aware of the fact. Undine is no exception, and his latest heroine is perhaps his most slippery and elusive yet. But then, her name belongs to a mythical creature, a female water nymph whose lack of a soul, not to mention her aquatic environment, can complicate interaction with humans.
A historian, Undine’s subject is Berlin: its many strata, both geographical and architectural; she delves deep into what lies below and in the past. Christophe, a diver tasked with assessing the underwater foundations of the city’s constructions, witnesses one of Undine’s presentations at her workplace, the Senate Department for Urban Development and Housing. A restaurant aquarium brings them together in one of the most startling first encounters viewers are likely to see at this festival. They are instantly transfixed and launch into a passionate affair.
The chemistry between Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski, stars of Petzold’s Transit (NZIFF 2018), powers this film of strangeness and wonders, plunging viewers into an intoxicating waking dream. — Sandra Reid