Directed by Christian Petzold. Starring Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski. In German, with English subtitles. Streaming at VIFF Connect from June 11 to July 8.
Christian Petzold’s work typically explore Germany’s past through a Hollywood genre lens. His last two films—2015’s haunting Vertigo adaptation Phoenix and 2018’s existential-riff on Casablanca, Transit—were two of the decade’s best.
Petzold’s latest is an uncharacteristically playful lark—more puzzling than haunting.
He adapts the European fairy tale Undine, which is about a water nymph rising to the surface in pursuit of romance. This eerie Little Mermaid tale stars Transit’s Paula Beer, whose Undine is a modern-day historian giving lectures on Berlin’s buildings and museums.
She explains to the droves how history and its intentions reassert themselves in art and architecture.
During one romantic and melancholic moment, those lectures about German history become pillow talk between Undine and a lovestruck diver (fellow Transit star Franz Rogowski).
In such scenes, Petzold reasserts his mastery over image, subtext, mood, and feeling; and Beer’s intoxicating performance truly grips.