James McAvoy, Alicia Vikander
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Submergence is a strong work from bona fide cinematic master, Wim Wenders.
German director, Wim Wenders, is at his best when he’s got a strong, solid story to grab onto. While his best feature films – Paris, Texas, The American Friend, Wings Of Desire – may be esoteric in tone and dreamy in style, they are all driven by a powerful central idea or theme. His latest film, Submergence – adapted from the novel by journalist, J.M Ledgard – might not be in the same class as these rusted-on cult favourites (but then again, not many movies are), but it definitely adheres to this formula: it’s big on ideas, but at its core is something very, very simple: a love story, and practically a two-hander at that. Wenders’ pacing might be characteristically slow, but his two central lovers are wholly engaging, and that almost provides the film with a narrative engine on its own.
Via a split but always accessible plot structure, Submergence is the tale of two very different people, separated by both distance and ideology. James More (James McAvoy) is a Scottish spy being held captive in Nairobi by a crew of jihadist insurgents. Despite his cynicism, he lives in hope of release, and of returning to the woman that he loves. Danielle Flinders (Alicia Vikander) is a bio-mathematician thousands of miles away, constantly checking her phone desperately for messages as she prepares to embark on a major research expedition to the ocean’s darkest recesses. As James and Danielle long for each other in very different ways, the film cuts back to their first meeting at a luxurious coastal hotel.
Environmentalism, deep sea exploration, international espionage, and religious extremism are the rather florid backdrops here, but Submergence is essentially the serious story of an adult relationship, which is somewhat rare in today’s cinema. One of the joys of the film is watching two intelligent, witty (but not annoyingly so) people meet, get to know each other, and then start to fall for each other. The dialogue from screenwriter, Erin Dignam, is smart, funny, and believable, and the performances from top-tier players, James McAvoy and Alicia Vikander – who share genuine on-screen chemistry – feel real and unforced. A quiet meditation on how love can be an oasis in a cruel and violent world, Submergence is a strong work from a bona fide cinematic master.