By Roger Costa
One of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, German auteur Christian Petzold has been examining the human condition in conflict with its own desires and expectations, usually told from the point of view of a strong, determined female heroine. His latest muse, Paula Beer, first appeared in last year’s “Transit”, and is reunited with him again, giving it all as a mysterious and seductive historian longing for a soulmate. She is the most important element in the story, anchoring an enigmatic romance that defies time, history, life and death.
As the film opens, she is sitting at a café, while on a break from her freelancer job at the house development Berlin Museum, trying to convince her lover not to break up with her. “If you leave me, I will certainly die, or you’ll have to die” she tells him, after crying tears of disappointment. A few minutes later, right after her rushed on presentation at the museum to various curious tourists regarding the architectural historical sites of Berlin, she meets an industrial diver who is intrigued by her beauty and professional efficiency.
They both share common aspects related to water, as a representation of cleansing, restoration and new beginnings. An intense relationship ensues as they delve into a co-dependent, confidant and transcendent romance. Another regular collaborator of Petzold, Franz Rogowski plays Christoph, her latest romantic investment, a man who might be hallucinating after he finds a sunk boat named “Undine” and has a transformative encounter with a mythical creature from the waters, a monster-like codfish.
But as the narrative moves forward, Petzold keeps the audience guessing about what’s real and what’s dream in the story, creating a magnificently suspenseful atmosphere, just as involving as his previous works. Just as he investigated the complexities of immigrant’s desire and violence in a time bending aesthetic with the evocative “Transit”, here the examination is also on topics of human passion and the willingness for accomplishment, both professional and emotional.
Adapting the European mythical figure of the lonely siren in search of love and revenge, Petzold masterly crafts a highly involving, detailed and unique, effectively romantic contemporary fable, confirming his status of an authentic, established auteur.
(IFC Films. 6/4. IFC Center and Film at Lincoln Center NYC.)