Legend has it that Undine, a water nymph from European mythology, transforms into a human when she falls in love. However, if the man of her desire betrays her, he must die. Writer and director Christian Petzold retells the Undine myth against the backdrop of modern day Berlin. Undine Wibeau (Paula Beer) is a historian specializing in the history of Berlin’s urban development . Right before one of her lectures her boyfriend Johannes (Jacob Matschenz) breaks up with her to pursue a relationship with another woman. Undine knows she must kill Johannes, and even tells him so, but soon becomes distracted by another man. Christoph (Franz Rogowski) is a professional diver who attends one of Undine’s lectures. Their first meeting almost cost Christoph’s his life but Undine saves him and they soon fall in love. However, Johannes is soon back in the picture and Undine is soon faced with her cursed destiny.
“If you leave me, I have to kill you. You know that.”
Undine is a quiet and sometimes peculiar retelling of a classic myth. It is light on fantastical elements and instead focuses on modern day realism. Paula Beer plays the mystifying Undine Wibeau with such skill. Beer’s Undine is haunting, mysterious, and beautiful; an enigma who will enchant viewers. It is so easy to get caught up in the film’s love story. Patient viewers will be rewarded generously.
Undine hits select theaters June 4th and will also be available on digital and VOD platforms.
Set in the bucolic countryside of Germany, Pelican Blood tells the story of Wiebke, an adoptive mother and talented horse trainer. It’s at her horse camp there that she trains horses and riders for the German mounted police. Wiebke isn’t afraid of a challenge and is determined that Top Gun, her most problematic horse, graduates to the academy even when others doubt her.
Wiebke is also getting ready to become a mother again. With her adopted daughter Nicolina (Adelia-Constance Ocleppo), they travel to Belgium to adopt a second child, an orphan named Raya (Katerina Lipovska). Everything seems to be fine until Raya start exhibiting some increasingly strange and frightening behaviors. Wiebke learns that Raya has reactive attachment disorder and feels very little to no fear or empathy. As Raya’s behaviors start to spiral out of control, putting the family in grave danger, Wiebke tries everything she possibly can to rehabilitate Raya. This puts a strain on her relationship with her daughter Nicolina and her love interest Benedikt (Murathan Muslu) one of Wiebke’s trainees. As Wiebke looks for a solution, will she have to sacrifice her work and a chance at happiness to save Raya?
“When you take a journey you can come back changed.”
Directed by Katrin Gebbe, Pelican Blood is an understated and terrifying movie. It’s frightening to not only see the effects of Raya’s psychosis but the lengths that Wiebke will go to help Raya. The term “pelican blood” refers to the sacrifice of motherhood which for Wiebke comes at a greater cost having chosen to be Raya’s mother. At the beginning of the film we learn of the legend where a pelican mother pierces her breast and feeds her dead chicks her own blood to bring them back to life.
The third act takes a strange turn which brings the conflict to its resolution. It’s not something I expected but I don’t know how else the story could have been resolved. I was particularly intrigued by how Wiebke’s scar becomes its own character in the movie. It’s very prominent on her face, changes in appearance and then disappears. We never learn exactly where she got it from but it’s assumed that it was from an encounter with an unruly horse. There are plenty of tender moments between Wiebke and Nicolina and also her sweet romance with Benedikt. These help balance out the tension with Raya.
I really hope Pelican Blood gets distributed in the US. It’s a fine film, very inventive in its storytelling and its solutions, offers fine performances and is enjoyable as both a dark family drama and a pseudo-horror flick.
Pelican Blood had its North American premiere at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival as part of their Special Presentations series.
Station: 19th Century Political Biopic Time Travel Destination: 1843-1848, Cologne, London, Manchester, Paris, Brussels, Ostend, etc. Conductor: Raoul Peck
“In early 1843, Europe, ruled by absolute monarchs, wracked by crises, famine and recession, is on the verge of profound change.”
On the heels of his critically acclaimed documentary I Am Not Your Negro (2016), director Raoul Peck brings audiences something vastly different but still as potent in its political message. The Young Karl Marx (2017) tells the story of two German philosophers: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, their friendship, trials and tribulations and the birth of Communism and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. August Diehl stars as Karl Marx, the headstrong and arrogant writer who is constantly getting in trouble for his radical ideas. Struggling to make ends meet for his growing family, Marx is battling the internal struggle of his passion for social justice and making a decent living. His partner is his equally headstrong wife, former socialite Jenny von Westphalen-Marx (Vicky Krieps), who gave up her comfortable life for the love of Marx and his ideas. They try to make a go of it in Paris but are soon exiled from France. In the meantime, another young philosopher Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), lives a conflicted life in Manchester, England. He works for his father, a successful mill owner and tyrant to his workers, and is constantly butting heads with him. Inspired by outspoken worker Mary Burns (Hannah Steele)’s protest of his father’s treatment of the mill workers, Engels seeks out justice. Marx and Engels meet and become fast friends. Over the next few years they fight for the proletariat and against the bourgeoisie. They know something big is about to happen and won’t let anything or anyone get in their way.
Peck’s biopic could have easily been called The Young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels because it focuses almost equally on both historic figures. However, it would have been a convoluted title and Marx is the one whom is best known to contemporary audiences. While you don’t have to be pro-communism to appreciate the political message of this film you do have to have some interest in liberal philosophy, political history and social justice. Even Peck within the confines of the movie, leaves room for doubt. In one scene Arnold Ruge (Hans-Uwe Bauer) warns Marx to not follow in Martin Luther’s footsteps, when Luther broke down Catholic dogma only to help usher in an equally intolerant religion. I thought this to be quite powerful.
I consider myself very liberal so I was fascinated by the story of these two important 19th century figures. If you enjoyed Elizabeth Gaskell’s social justice novel North & South (or its mini-series adaptation), about the working poor of mill town Manchester, England around the same time of Engels and Marx, you’ll want to see The Young Karl Marx. Especially if you have an interest in the political message of that story and want to explore it more deeply.
Written by Pascal Bonitzer and Raoul Peck, the original screenplay really hones in on a dark time in European history. I was especially impressed in the character portrayals of Marx and Engels. These are two figures caught in conflicting worlds. Marx is torn between stability and his passion. Engels is caught between his bourgeoisie upbringing and his desire to help the proletariat. Both Diehl as Marx and Konarske as Engels play their parts with great tenacity and attention to detail. I was particularly impressed how the filmmakers incorporated two strong female characters in what could have solely been a movie about two men. Actress Vicky Krieps, best known for her stand out performance in the Academy Award nominated Phantom Thread (2017), is a delight as Marx’s wife Jenny. Even when she hangs out in the background she makes her voice heard and everyone, especially Marx, respects her for it. Mary Burns, played by Hannah Steele, is feisty, brash and outspoken and Engels falls head over heels for her and rightly so. In the movie they marry but in real life Engels felt marriage was repressive construct of culture and they were lifelong romantic partners instead. In the film though you still get a sense that their union is anything but ordinary.
The Young Karl Marx felt as real as a biopic set in different parts of Europe could possibly be. Lots of on location shooting helps. Peck and his team filmed in France, Belgium and Germany. There is a keen attention to period detail and I always felt like I was thrust into the world of 1840s Europe and not a movie about 1840s Europe. But one thing that stands out about this film is that it’s trilingual. German, French and English are spoken interchangeably throughout the film depending on the location, circumstances and characters in the scene. This is truly European. I myself am trilingual (English, Spanish and Portuguese) with many family members in Europe who all speak more than one language. I love that Peck’s film embraces multiple languages instead of having one language pretend to be all three. The end result is an exercise in attention and comfort with subtitles that is truly worth the effort.
The film ends a month before Revolutions of 1848. It’s a time capsule of just a few years in Marx and Engels’ lives but an important one that helps us begin to understand what is to follow.
Raoul Peck’s The Young Karl Marx is a powerful, multi-lingual biopic that explores inequality and class struggles within the context of the lives of two influential philosophers. Highly recommended.
The Young Karl Marx debuted in New York and LA last week and a national roll out is to follow.
Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto in February 1848, comes a new film from celebrated director Raoul Peck. His previous film, the documentary I Am Not Your Negro, was a powerful look at the life of James Baldwin, the Civil Rights Movement and black representation in media (read my review here). Peck’s new film The Young Karl Marx premiered at the 2017 Berlin International Film Festival and is coming to theaters soon.
“At the age of 26, Karl Marx (August Diehl) embarks with his wife Jenny (Vicky Krieps) on the road to exile. In 1844 Paris they meet young Friedrich Engels (Stefan Konarske), son of a factory owner and an astute student of the English proletariat class. Engels brings Marx the missing piece to the puzzle that composes his new vision of the world. Together, between censorship and police raids, riots and political upheavals, they will preside over the birth of the labor movement, which until then had been mostly makeshift and unorganized. This will grow into the most complete theoretical and political transformation of the world since the Renaissance – driven, against all expectations, by two brilliant, insolent and sharp-witted young men.”
The Young Karl Marx premieres on February 23rd at the Metograph in New York City and the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles. National release to follow.