Christian Petzold’s Undine, stars Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski in his experimental romance film with a supernatural and mythological twist. Beer plays Undine, a freelance historian with an affinity for Berlin’s urban development who catches the eye of Christoph (Rogowski) when he attends one of her tours. The film is simultaneously a romance between the two and a love letter to the city of Berlin, the same way New York is adored and admired by those who tell stories deep within its alleyways.
Petzold’s drama is quiet and soft, mostly told in intimate shots of hands touching through the glass and long affectionate gazes. The way Petzold nurtures love and intimacy is dream-like, and it uniquely builds tension leading into the film’s climactic moments.
It feels semi-documentarian with muted tones, nodding to a realism that is carried by both protagonists. Undine and Christoph live their love story primarily in private moments shared solely between the two of them, in Undine’s apartment, in Christoph’s tranquil town and even underwater. It is reminiscent of Del Toro’s The Shape of Water in how it examines the undeniable pull of forbidden love.
For all its merit, it does feel longer than its run-time. It is, at times, challenging to fall in love with due to precise language that can isolate a viewer perhaps not enamoured with history. There are long scenes of Undine telling stories from corners of Berlin that although are entrancing, can sometimes feel tedious in length. It is remarkably beautiful to watch
Christoph fall in love with Undine’s knowledge, though, and Petzold elegantly demonstrates the romance of passion.
Undine is focussed, eerie and quite alluring with eyes required on it at all times. It is one that you’ll have to commit to in order to feel the payoff, but its mystery is all too beguiling to ignore. Beer and Rogowski do a fantastic job of holding the space they are given, especially when entrusted with being the sole storytellers in this two-hander. Inspired by the myth of the water nymph, a story that audiences should have a foundational understanding of before entering the film as it breathes new meaning into this sultry and captivating narrative.