By a curious coincidence, two of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen so far this summer – the animated fable for the whole family Luca and the fairy tale of German arthouse Undine – tell stories about mythical sea creatures coming into contact with the human world. This is not a new concept, as we have seen in films as different as The shape of water, Aquaman and countless versions of The little Mermaid. But as Luca and Undine demonstrate, there are still new stories to be extracted from these aquatic depths.
Arrived on Disney + several months after Oscar-winning comedy from the afterlife Soul, Luca is a lighter and softer Pixar confectionery brand. It also happens to be a better, smarter movie. It takes place in and around a small town on the Italian Riviera whose residents live in fear of sea monsters which are said to inhabit the surrounding waters.
One of these fantastic creatures is Luca, an adorable young boy with blue fins, green scales and a long tail, who lives in an underwater cave with his overprotective parents. (He is voiced by Jacob Tremblay, the lead role of a solid cast that also includes Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan.)
Like the Little Mermaid herself, Luca is fascinated by the world above the ocean’s surface. One day, he ventures ashore and finds that after drying out, he takes on human form. But he has to be careful never to get wet or he will be exposed as a sea creature – a supernatural vanity that sets up a lot of gags in this literal fish-out of the water prank.
Luca’s guide to the human world is another undercover boy / sea creature named Alberto. In one scene, Alberto shows Luca his house in a stone tower and teaches him about gravity and the other forces he will have to face on the surface. Eventually Luca and Alberto arrive in town, which is beautifully crafted in a way we’ve come to expect from Pixar: Director Enrico Casarosa, working from a script by Jesse Andrews and Mike Jones, composes an exquisite visual love letter. to Italy cobbled streets and picturesque squares.
Luca and Alberto befriend an outgoing young girl named Giulia and compete in a local triathlon where one of the events is – what else? – a contest of pasta eaters. But as they embrace their new life on dry land, they also run the risk of being exposed and even harmed by city dwellers, along with their superstitious fear of sea monsters.
When the trailer for Luca released weeks ago, its images of two boys running through a lush Italian paradise have made more than one wonder, half-jokingly, if Pixar had made its own version of the love story. gay Call me by your name. While there is no romance in Luca, the subtext is hard to miss: after all, Luca and Alberto struggle to conceal their true identities in a society that shuns what it doesn’t understand. It’s a charming story about friendship, adventure, and learning how to live without fear.
The main character of the melancholy drama Undine is also an aquatic pixie who takes on human form, though all of the similarities between the two films end there. An Undine, or Ondine is a famous nymph from European mythology, although German writer-director Christian Petzold gives the legend his own twist.
This Undine, played by Paula Beer, lives in present-day Berlin and works as a city historian. You wouldn’t guess that there is something supernatural about her, or that she is bound by only one rule: If a human lover betrays her, she must take her life. We see her preparing to do it early on, when her latest boyfriend, Johannes, tells her he’s leaving her for another woman.
Petzold takes a dark and realistic approach to this bizarre premise; there are no obvious visual effects and the mythological origins of Ondine are never specified. But the story unfolds with such deviousness that I quickly found myself immersed in it. Before she has time to deal with Johannes, Undine is swept away by another man, Christoph, and the two dive headlong into a romance that consumes them both – and, like most love stories of Ondine, is not destined to end happily. .
Christoph is played by Franz Rogowski, who appeared with Beer in Petzold’s previous film, Transit. The actors are captivating to watch and their reunion here adds to the film’s slightly supernatural feel. Petzold likes to use the genre to illuminate different chapters in German history, and Undine is no exception. Its cinema is so sleek and concise that you might not realize it slips into a lesson in the history of Berlin itself – a story of war, devastation and reconstruction that Ondine has long witnessed. She’s a truly timeless heroine in a movie I’ve seen a few times now, and who gets more mysterious – and magical – with each revisit.