Indie Focus: A myth made modern in ‘Undine’
Hello! I’m Mark Olsen. Welcome to another edition of your regular field guide to a world of Only Good Movies.
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The Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival is already underway, combining in-person and virtual events through Sunday, so there is still time to check things out. For The Times, Carlos Aguilar spotlighted seven films from the festival program, including “Between Fire and Water,” “Bridges” and “My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To.”
The biggest event of this year’s festival is the showing of “In the Heights,” an adaptation of the stage musical from Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegría Hudes, at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, ahead of its screening at the Tribeca Film Festival and its release next week. Ashley Lee profiled the film’s director, John M. Chu, who is also directing the upcoming adaptation of the musical “Wicked.”
“It’s so strange. I never thought this odyssey would end up right back at the musical,” Chu said of where his career has taken him. “But I’m so down. I’ve been waiting a long time for this.”
For “The Envelope” podcast, this week I spoke to director and showrunner Barry Jenkins about “The Underground Railroad.” An Oscar winner for “Moonlight,” Jenkins explained how there was one line in Colson Whitehead’s novel that pushed him to adapt it into a 10-part limited series.
“So this line, ‘Look out as you ride the rails and you’ll see the true face of America,’” says Jenkins. “Both literally and metaphorically, if you’re on a train underground, you look out the window, what do you see? Black. You just see black. You just see blackness. And there are so many stories revolving around the Black experience and as it relates to the foundation of this country that have not been told. And so have we seen the true face of America? I read that line and I was like, ‘Oh, s—, I have got to do this.’”
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Directed by Christian Petzold, the German film “Undine” reimagines an ancient myth for modern times. Reuniting the stars of Petzold’s “Traffic,” the new film features Paula Beer as a woman who is actually a water sprite in human form swept off her feet by a diver played by Franz Rogowski. The film is playing locally at Laemmle theaters and is also on digital and VOD.
For The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “A devotee of classic Hollywood, Petzold delights in the conventions of old thrillers and melodramas, their pulpy pleasures and overripe contrivances. For all that, his diamond-hard surfaces are exceedingly poised, even cool to the touch. ‘Undine’ is a poker-faced fairy tale, a fantasy wrought by a committed cinematic realist. It’s an example of how a filmmaker can take an outlandish central idea and play it beautifully straight.”
For Time, Stephanie Zacharek wrote, “Petzold loves his romantic bargains, his meditations on longing, obsession and deceit, and he unfurls all of that seductive cloth of gold in ‘Undine.’ … ‘Undine’ is also a story of things — and people — breaking apart and being mended, and making their way toward reconciliation, if not necessarily what we think of as happiness. Then again, most versions of happiness, like the legend of Undine itself, are a myth. That’s not because happiness is unachievable, but only because, like water, the more we try to hang onto it, the more readily it slips through our fingers.”
For The Guardian, Peter Bradshaw wrote, “In truth, ‘Undine’ is a bit of a shaggy dog story, or maybe a slimy giant catfish story; though it is just so skilfully made, beautifully acted and directed. Rogowski brings something unstable and dangerous to the part and so, in a more contained way, does Beer. What might this cast and this director do if they were working on a more compelling and substantial story? As it stands, Undine is a diverting and handsomely crafted piece of fantasy.”
‘All Light, Everywhere’
Directed by Theo Anthony, “All Light, Everywhere” is a wildly ambitious documentary about perception and how we see, through the lens of the surveillance industry and more specifically policing and body cameras. The film is playing at the Landmark in Los Angeles.
Anthony spoke with Angie Orellana Hernandez about how the making of the film itself becomes a part of its story. “I’ve always been interested in the power dynamics between people behind and in front of the camera. As my career developed, I sort of started to see that this was a way that was also potentially very productive [for] this conversation of who gets to be seen and who gets to do the seeing.”
Reviewing the film for The Times, Justin Chang wrote, “One of the movie’s unspoken insights seems to be that the more a person or corporation harps on about objectivity and accountability, the less they can be trusted to evince any. That observation speaks directly to the debate around body cameras, which often have been held up as neutral observers, their footage entered into court evidence as an unassailable record of the truth. But Anthony handily demolishes that assumption, pointing out how a camera, equipped with a distorting wide-angle lens and mounted on an officer’s chest, creates its own skewed perspective and often promotes or rationalizes a police narrative. … If perception has its limitations, this deeply sobering, stimulating film suggests, that may be another way of saying that it is fundamentally limitless. There is so much — too much — to see here, and no end of vantages from which to see it.”
For the New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, “In a manner that is patient — and sometimes even playful — rather than polemical, ‘All Light, Everywhere’ contributes to debates about crime, policing, racism and accountability. In its final moments it gestures beyond those arguments, toward a very different set of ideas about what cameras can do. A brief epilogue documents Anthony’s involvement in a filmmaking program for Baltimore high school students, an experience the director admits he couldn’t figure out how to fit into this movie. Its inclusion nonetheless adds the glimmer of a counterargument to a troubling account of some of the ways Big Brother is watching us — a reminder that the rest of us have eyes, too. And cameras.”
For Variety, Jessica Kiang wrote, “A highly persuasive film about how we should be wary of film’s power to persuade, Theo Anthony’s discursive and disturbing ‘All Light, Everywhere’ is a superb if sinister example of how the outwardly modest essay format can deploy arguments that challenge us to unpick our most basic assumptions. Here, it’s the idea that a thing and its recorded image can never have a 1:1 relationship: It’s not just that our eyes deceive us, it’s that we’re conditioned to accept the representations of those deceptions as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help us God.”
‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’
Directed by Michael Chaves from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It” is the latest in an ongoing franchise that with its assorted spinoffs has earned almost $2 billion worldwide. Again featuring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the frumpily stylish couple Lorraine and Ed Warren, this installment finds them investigating the possible demonic possession of a little boy. The film is in general release and is streaming on HBO Max.
For The Times, Justin Chang wrote that the film “hits the occasional sweet spot, if less consistently or surprisingly than its predecessors did. Narratively speaking, the most pleasurable aspect of these films is the way they function as paranormal detective stories, knottily intricate puzzles in which the battle for the human soul also becomes a battle of wits. That’s another reason why the Warrens — at least as played by Farmiga and Wilson, making the most as always of their retro-nerdy-sexy chemistry — are such an endearing detective duo: They’re Nick and Nora with less banter and more holy water.”
For the Playlist, Robert Daniels wrote, “The terrors in this ‘Conjuring’ are run of the mill due to the film lacking the technical and storytelling proficiency to create real shocks of fear. The body horror isn’t particularly gruesome: The crunch of bones cracking barely makes an audible dent. While the pretzel-shaped bodily positions narrowly rise above internet fodder. A necessary atmosphere of foreboding is lacking from Arne’s possession scenes: It’s one thing for a character to say they feel cold, it’s another for the audience to feel it, too.”
For rogerebert.com, Tomris Laffly wrote, “Who the hell actually wants the new ‘The Conjuring’ to be downgraded to a mere whodunit anyway, when its original predecessor is still one of the most brilliant and frightening horror movies of the 21st century? If you’re not that person, this film’s array of hollow jump-scares and uninteresting secrets that culminate in short-lived thrills is unlikely to impress you, despite some successful effects and elegant camerawork by cinematographer Michael Burgess.”
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