J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wim Wenders’ Submergence

James More is a lot like James Bond, but he can also devise a sustainable village water supply system. He has to know the engineering, because it is all part of his cover. (By the way, that is “More” with one “o,” as in For All Seasons.) Regardless, it is easy to believe women would be interested in him, but he is not a Bond-like player. That is why the intoxicating and possibly tragic vacation romance that blossoms between him and Danielle Flinders, an avowedly single workaholic marine bio-statistician, hits them both so hard in Wim Wenders’ Submergence (trailer here), which releases today on DVD and BluRay.

Before leaving on a dangerous assignment, More takes a rare vacation in Normandy. We can safely say it will be perilous, based on the in media res opening, focusing on More starving in a Somali Jihadist prison cell. Flinders is also biding time before leaving on an undersea expedition that is not without risks. When they meet, the mutual attraction is immediate—and it progressively deepens over their short holiday.

When it is time to leave, they resolve to try to make a go of it long-distance, but, presumably for her protection, More has yet to fully level with Flinders regarding his true line of work. That is why she is so confused when he goes dark after getting captured by the Islamists. She is so distracted by his presumed ghosting, it even affects her work. He too is rather heartsick over her, but he has more pressing concerns, like catching bugs to eat.

Submergence is considerably better than critics made it out to be, but the speed at which Flinders’ separation anxiety turns into self-pity is hard to buy into. Granted, she thinks he is in Kenya rather than Somalia, but that is still not a super-stable country with an ultra-modern communications infrastructure. She really ought to chill out and stop calling every five minutes.

Still, the first half romance is quite appealing, in a Brief Encounter kind of way. Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy are attractive leads, but they also have a real facility for making screenwriter Erin Dignam’s adapted dialogue sound natural—and erotically charged. Their chemistry feels real.

More’s captivity sequences also have a visceral charge. Some have focused on a bit of dialogue in which More professes to admire the terrorists’ faith, but that is taken somewhat out of context. Frankly, the film is pretty forthright in its depiction the ruinous influence of Islamist extremism on Somalia. There is not much for viewers or More to admire there. In fact, it gets rather bold when the subject of a forced conversion video comes up.

Apparently, J.M. Ledgard’s source novel makes much of how the two lovers’ lives supposedly parallel each other’s after their separation, but Wenders wisely de-emphasizes that synchronicity, aside from a few moments of dog whistle intuition, wherein Flinders suddenly cocks her head in sudden alarm. In fact, the deep-sea exploration branch of the film is definitely its weakest link. Nonetheless, Celyn Jones is terrific as Thumbs, her less talented colleague, who is better suited to winning over the ship’s crew.

Of course, Vikander and McAvoy are the marquee attractions and they play their wind-swept romantic roles to the hilt. Wenders and cinematographer Benoît Debie fully capitalize on the strikingly cinematic landscapes of Normandy for the courtship segments and the Greenland Sea (Iceland, Faroe Islands) for the submersible episodes. It looks great, but despite all its lyricism, Submergence is still shrewder and more connected to the real world, as it really is, than most Hollywood films. Recommended for fans of star-crossed art-house romance, Submergence is now available for home viewing.

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