Saturday, June 19, 2021

Undine: Dangerous Liaisons in Berlin

By José Alberto Hermosillo

Undine” is an evocative, poetic, and subtly haunting masterwork from accomplished German director Christian Petzold. His latest piece fluctuates flawlessly between romance, thriller, and fantasy. 

The intricate plot submerges the characters’ lives in a rare aquatic world where they evolve into something they do not want to be, internally speaking.

After a difficult breakup, Undine (Paula Beer: “Barbara,” “Frantz,” “Dark Valley,” “Never Look Away”) and Johannes (Jacob Matschenz, “Berlin Babylon” series) never hear from each other again.

Undine still courtesy of IFC Films

Undine enters into an obsessive state of mind. She works as a historian at Berlin’s Urban Development Museum. When she goes to do a lecture, she hopes her ex-lover will remain at the café until she finishes. Otherwise, she will do something regrettable. Nevertheless, her profession gives her confidence. Moreover, her knowledge of Berlin’s history and architectural design surrounding the Spree River is meaningful to the story.

Undine still courtesy of IFC Films

When Undine comes back, she cannot find Johannes. Instead, she encounters Christoph, played by Franz Rogowski (“Transit,” “Victoria,” and “A Hidden Life”). Undine and Christoph meet in one of cinema history’s most bizarre first happenstances.

Undine still courtesy of IFC Films

The characters’ emotions complement the camera work perfectly. 

Paula Beer is pure energy and joy on the screen. She won the Silver Berlin Bear for Best Actress for her remarkable performance as Undine. Franz Rogowski’s realization is tremendous. The prodigious young actor gives his best in every project. Apart from winning at the Berlinale, the film won seven international awards, including Best Actress at the European Film Awards, Montclair, and Seville. 

Undine still courtesy of IFC Films

Inspired by the novel “Moscow Diary” by German-Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin, director Christian Petzold (Barbara, Transit) took two years to write “Undine’s” script. 

However, first, he had to transcribe Moscow’s outlook on Berlin – unfolding the novel’s legend in three different periods of the city’s history and using three specific points of Berlin’s architectural design. He also had to change the perspective from the male to the female point-of-view to make the film structure cohesive and the original poetry more effective.  

Christian Petzold, German director, "Undine." Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo
Christian Petzold, German director, "Undine." Photo: José Alberto Hermosillo

Petzold designed his cinema trilogy based on elements of nature, starting with “Phoenix,” which is Earth. “Undine” is water. And his next project, “The Lucky Ones,” will be fire - starting production in May 2022

Petzold manages the cinematic language to perfection, integrating the knowledge of the city into the fantasy of the story. His previous film, “Transit,” is obsessive, and the characters are more histrionic. “Undine” is more fluid and ethereal, like water’s main ingredient.

The director likes to work building structures, literally speaking. He regrets that Germany does not have a consistent film industry, a movie studio, or the machinery to produce movies like in Hollywood. However, his prolific body of work speaks for itself.  

Undine still courtesy of IFC Films

“Undine” reminds us of other recent European extraordinary romances on the big screen, such as Jacques Audiard’s “Rust and Bone” and the Belgian production “The Broken Circle Breakdown” by Felix van Groeningen. Other transcendental romances are the classic Arthur Hiller’s “Love Story” or Claude Lelouch’s Oscar-winning film, “A Man and a Woman.”

“Undine” has a proper flow, and it is emotionally even. Its structure has twists and turns, taking us to places with unpredictable situations.

According to the myth, Undine is the betrayed woman of the waters – who lives in a lake in the forest.

The spirit in the water is a referral point that connects all the liquid symbols - the fish tank, the scuba diver, the river, the lake, the rain, the swimming pool, the city, the burning pain, and the love, that dissipates as a fluid.  

In “Undine,” the romance overtakes the myth because, without love, we are empty.

UNDINE Official Trailer

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Friday, June 11, 2021

Quo Vadis, Aida? The Perfect Depiction of The Genocide in The Balkans

 By José Alberto Hermosillo

“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is a monumental, operatic, and poignant work of art.

Based on actual events, the Oscar-nominated film from Bosnia and Herzegovina raises awareness of people’s struggle in the Balkan War during the 1990s.

The historical drama follows a crucial moment in the life of Aida Selmanagic (Jasna Djuricic), a United Nations translator who sees herself in the middle of an international conflict. The interpreter’s job allows her to gather the information that will change the destiny of thousands. As she helps everyone inside the refugee camp, she will do the impossible to save her husband and two young sons in the bargain. However, the ethnic cleansing in Srebrenica orchestrated by General Ratko Mladić is still one of the most horrendous crimes against humanity at the end of the 20th Century. 

The performance of Jasna Djuricic is impeccable. Her facial expressions transmit the proper emotions in every single scene she plays. 

The Serbian invasion of Bosnia took place in 1995 with serious repercussions hard to assimilate for the rest of the nations, who were unaware of the chaos suffered by the people in the newly divided Yugoslavia due to religious and political differences.

General Ratko Mladić (Boris Isakovic) documented his war crimes with a camera person recording every step he gave, including the tragic genocide perpetrated by his officers. Moreover, the material validated his criminal actions in an effective system of political propaganda during those chaotic times in the Balkans peninsula.

The General made a historic pact that looked more like a “one-sided ultimatum” between his army and the United Nations Blue Helmets. Aida witnesses the event and feels that the General will take extreme actions against innocent locals in the restricted areas protected by the United Nations peace forces.

Writer-director Jasmila Zbanic remembers how the Serbian army penetrated the UN-protected areas mercilessly. The Blue Helmets forces could not protect the civilians, and mass killings and graves are still unveiled. She compares the Bosnian experience to the horror lived during WWII.

Zbanic based part of her story on the book “Under the UN Flag” by Hasan Nuhanovic, who recounted the story of a male translator during the conflict. She adapted the film by having an influential female figure leading the action and connecting the dots. Researching for more evidence, Jasmila Zbanic found that genocide is still denied by many, including the European Union.

Jasmila Zbanic, director of “Quo Vadis, Aida?” Photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo
Jasmila Zbanic, director of “Quo Vadis, Aida?” Photo Jose Alberto Hermosillo

At a virtual screening sponsored by the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, Jasmila Zbanic passionately expressed that her main character is not an ordinary hero because “In the attempt to save her family, Aida loses her humanity, making her life more variable.” With her movie, Jasmila hopes to start opening the conversation about the importance of finding the truth about the genocide in her homeland - as a form of people’s liberation.

The production crew went to a refugee camp during the Bosnian War (1992-1995) and hired more than 500 extras from different countries. Some of them were real survivors who were able to tell their stories. For the director, it was imperative to listen to the people’s first-hand experiences and set the account right.

To recreate some of the most dramatic scenes, Jasmila Zbanic was inspired by “Schindler’s List.” She used some SFX effects flawlessly - always keeping the audience’s perception in mind to communicate the facts about one of the most tragic episodes in Bosnia and Herzegovina’s history.

Jasmila Zbanic started her career as a documentarian. She looked for hours of video footage, transcripts, and other propaganda campaigns to accurately recreate the actors’ appearances, mannerisms, and dialogues. She learned how to place her real-world findings in all her projects, but in “Quo Vadis, Aida?” she was open to dramatization.  

Financing comes from the European Film Fund and private financiers from nine European countries, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, Austria, Romania, Netherlands, Germany, Poland, France, Turkey, and Norway.

Since its premiere at the Venice Film Festival 2020, “Quo Vadis, Aida?” was screened in many film festivals and in a local theater where some filmgoers had the opportunity to appreciate a movie that tells their story straight on the big screen. The film also streamed online in their country and reached a broader audience, for the director was a personal way to fight censorship. 

She ran an extensive Awards campaign, earning her an Oscar nomination for Best International Feature Film. After winning fourteen international awards, the movie got distribution in the United States, now streaming on Hulu.

“Quo Vadis, Aida?” is not a film about revenge. Its true intention is to bring evil people to justice and have the European Union, and the entire world recognizes that the Srebrenica genocide actually happened.

Aida is a fighter who sees the light at the end of the tunnel - our generation’s responsibility is to learn from the past and
prevent atrocities like the genocide at Srebrenica from ever happening again for a better and brighter future.


Quo Vadis, Aida? - Official Trailer


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