2018, R, 112 min. Directed by Wim Wenders. Starring Alicia Vikander, James McAvoy, Alexander Siddig, Jannik Schümann, Reda Kateb, Jess Liaudin, Godehard Giese.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., April 13, 2018
One look at Wim Wenders' 24 fps résumé and you know you’re in the hands of a director defiantly enamored of romantic love, but also perspicacious enough to not shy away from the seemingly impossible odds thereof. I’m not sure what the German equivalent of l’amour fou might be, but Wenders certainly knows and has constructed his most affecting cinematic works around the crazy, frustrating, but ultimately life-affirming peculiarities of the human heart. Even the titles of his varied but passionate oeuvre – Wings of Desire; Until the End of the World; Faraway, So Close! – read like snippets cribbed from Keats or Lord Byron.
Submergence continues with this theme of lovers separated by damnable circumstance. No angels are on hand to renounce their divinity in the name of true love, but the star-crossed couple here might as well be in two vastly different worlds. Danielle Flinders (Vikander) is a biomathematician about to board a submersible to study microscopic life beneath the Arctic Circle. James More (McAvoy) is a spy heading to Somalia to track down one of Osama bin Laden’s henchmen. But of course these two career-minded individuals meet-cute in Normandy as they prep for their respective assignments. Their mutual attraction is instant, yet duty beckons. You likely know where the story (adapted from the novel by J.M. Ledgard) is headed, but Submergence – despite much lovesick gravitas from its two leads – never quite coalesces into the epic romance that it should. It fizzles when it should ignite, leaving the viewer with a palpable yearning for something other than a shrug.
You can’t fault Wenders’ director of photography Benoît Debie (Enter the Void, Irreversible), who imbues both Danielle’s undersea explorations and James’ Bond-esque globe-trotting and eventual capture with heady, granular detail. Still, I walked away from Submergence feeling precious little in the way of romance, doomed or not. Far away, so close indeed!