On Arte, the myth of Ondine immersed in contemporary Berlin


At 8:55 p.m. on Arte

From the myth of Ondine, a water nymph who condemns to death the man who betrayed her love, we know the multiple translations. That of the German director Christian Petzold is a variation on absolute love and a splendid sentimental melodrama with the allure of a tale. Borrowing many of its narrative and aesthetic codes from German romanticism, he transposes it into contemporary Berlin.

Ondine (Paula Beer) is a historian, urban planning specialist, who earns her living by giving lectures on the history of the city. When her lover Johannes announces that he is leaving her to reconnect with his former girlfriend, Ondine is upset. “If you leave me, you must die”, she lets go, at the mercy of the ancient legend.

A wild romance

The young woman chooses to defy fate thanks to the love of Christoph (Franz Rogowski), a diver by trade. The pure and devoid of all pretense love that this man has for her is, she wants to believe, a powerful antidote to fate. But dark forces, still at work, threaten this new balance, reminding Ondine of her true nature. The story then takes on its full dimension of fable with the aquatic evocations of its soundtrack and its scenes of diving in a dam lake, populated by industrial remains, whose universe seems straight out of Twenty thousand leagues under sea.

Present and past are superimposed, what is on the surface and what is buried, like Berlin, the other protagonist of the story, built on dry marshes, and which has never ceased to erase the traces of its history to rebuild itself. The love story of Ondine and Christoph, weighed down, like their city, by the weight of the past will have to overcome the curse in order to come true. The atmosphere of strangeness that bathes the film, making its characters specters wandering in a disembodied city, is sublimated by the disheveled romance of its screenplay, the beauty of the images and its sensitive duo of actors.

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