A romantic thriller tracing Islamic jihadists and exploring the ocean's depths in search of the origins of life: Wim Wenders' latest film, "Submergence," relies on his unique sense of place to tell an unusual love story.
Filmmaker, photographer, playwright, author, opera director: Wim Wenders has worn a number of hats over the course of his illustrious career in the arts. Making his directorial debut with "Summer in the City," in 1970, at the height of New German Cinema, Wenders' films with unique storylines and special emphasis on place are adored by independent cinema fans worldwide.
That combination has taken on an entirely new dimension in Wenders' latest film, "Submergence," which made its global debut in Toronto last year and opens in US theaters on April 13.
Setting the mood
Starring Oscar winner Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, the romantic thriller is based on a novel by journalist J.M. Ledgard. The love story begins when the two protagonists meet in an isolated hotel in the Normandy region of France — a windswept coastal region.
Wenders and production designer Thierry Flamand scoured the continent to find this hideaway, which Wenders recalled as being "utterly beautiful."
"I knew that the entire film depended on finding an absolutely magical place, and we looked for it everywhere in Europe," Wenders said.
While the beating heart of the movie is the love story that takes place within the walls of this private house on the coast of Normandy and its nearby park, it is just one of many locations that give the movie its mood.
After protagonist James, who is on a covert mission for the British secret service, departs for Somalia, the setting becomes barren — a desert wasteland. Filmed in Djibouti, a small nation on the horn of Africa, the movie's thread traces James's kidnapping by Jihadists and the washed out colors allude to the desperation felt by the characters in a country known for its lack of opportunity.
That setting contrasts with that in which protagonist Danielle finds herself, in the coastal town of Brest, in northern France. Danny is a bio mathematician preparing to explore the ocean's depths in search of the origins of life — a literal quest that becomes metaphoric and personal when she learns of James', her new lover's, kidnapping.
An eye for abandoned places
Although the plotline is based on the book by J.M. Ledgard and a script written by Erin Dignam, the movie flourishes under Wenders' unique direction.
The director, who made a name for himself with indie favorites in the 1980s, including the award-winning "Paris, Texas," and "Wings over Berlin," has an eye for capturing the places that others may overlook. He evidenced that in a recent exhibition of his photographs, which showcase locations in the American southwest that appear desolate, nearly abandoned. Working from that perspective, Wenders brought "Submergence" to a new artistic level that's unseen in standard thrillers or romance stories — a movie worth viewing especially for its fantastic cinematography.