It takes near foolhardy courage to make a contemporary romance that wraps present-day realities around a fairy-tale spine. Director Christian Petzold (Transit) takes the dare with Undine, the story of the relationship between an industrial diver (Franz Rogowski) and Undine (Paula Beer), a woman who delivers lectures about the history of Berlin.
Oh, and by the way, Undine is a water nymph.
Rogowski's meets Undine after she's been ditched by Johannes (Jacob Matschenz), a jerk who we later learn is married and cheating on his wife.
Rogowski and Beer light sparks as their romance plays against a backdrop of daily life. If you know the Undine myth, you know that Undine is fated to kill any lover who's unfaithful to her.
Confident in his approach, Petzold makes no apologies for the movie's folkloric elements, allowing them to turn up in the midst of a story based in Berlin and the surrounding countryside. He presents the mythical without fanfare.
The movie’s appeal has less to do with its story or any mythology than with the charm of its two leads, with the poise Petzold brings to his filmmaking and the grace notes he sounds.
Watching Christoph welding underwater as he helps repair a turbine immerses us in a dark silent world of mystery.
Petzold's story includes elements of deceit and vengeance but also reaches for exalted levels of devotional love, the kind that you might expect to find on an opera stage.
At its best, Undine flows and floats its way through an unconventional story that like the models of Berlin that Undine uses for her lectures knows that many layers lie beneath its contemporary surface.