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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017 Competition

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Submergence: Down into the abyss


- SAN SEBASTIÁN 2017: Veteran director Wim Wenders blends melancholia, mysticism, science and politics in this epic, captivating and tragic romance starring Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy

Submergence: Down into the abyss
Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy in Submergence

German filmmaker Wim Wenders has always had a fond relationship with Spain. In 2002, he formed part of the jury for the San Sebastián International Film Festival (which opted to honour Fernando León de Aranoa’s Mondays in the Sun [+see also:
film profile
), and he has friends scattered all over the country where he chose to film The Scarlett Letter alongside Elías Querejeta back in the 1970s. Much more recently, Wenders’ love affair with all things Iberian brought him to Madrid and Chinchón, where his latest feature, Submergence [+see also:
film profile
, was shot. Vying for a nod in the official competition, the film was selected to open the 65th San Sebastián International Film Festival. It was in this very city that composer Fernando Velázquez (A Monster Calls [+see also:
film review
film focus
interview: Juan Antonio Bayona
film profile
) recorded the film’s score with the Basque National Orchestra, under the practised ears of Wenders, who brought us Buena Vista Social Club.

Submergence is a co-production between Germany, France, Belgium, the USA and Spain, with some scenes also filmed in Berlin, various locations in France and Djibouti following a screenplay written by Erin Dignam (The Last Face) and based on the novel of the same name by J.M. Ledgard, foreign correspondent for The Economist. Both novel and film focus on the love story between two people who at first seem poorly inclined to romance: a biomathematician (played by Swedish actress Alicia Vikander) and a hydraulic engineer (Scotland’s James McAvoy) who find themselves staying at the same coastal hotel. Each has an important mission to prepare for: he is soon to depart for Somalia, while she is taking part in an experiment in unexplored regions of the deep ocean. After they separate, the sea will bring them back together and then wrench them apart once more, perhaps forever.

Wenders bathes Submergence in an aura both romantic and irresistibly melancholy; it’s a love story tinged with tragedy and magic (or mysticism) and steeped in a tempered but unrelenting sadness. As in the Wings of Desire director’s earlier work, the spiritual is once again seen to transcend the triviality — and wretchedness — of the human occupants of planet Earth. A haze of mystery and secrecy also hangs over the encounter between these two unattached and independent people who, deep down, are hungering for powerful, genuine emotions; something to hold on to that will help them face up to the challenges ahead and, in a pinch, survive.

With Submergence, the director who had us in tears with Paris, Texas walks a fine line, but succeeds in preventing the film from falling into a chasm of sentimentality. Wenders skilfully weaves together the strands of a modern melodrama, adding a good dose of political resonance and coming out firmly against violence, fanaticism and destruction. If audiences leave the cinema after the screening feeling deeply moved, it will be a tribute to a filmmaker who, at 72, shows no signs of losing his fascination with stories that rise above the mundane.

Submergence was produced by LILA 9TH Productions in co-production with Neue Road MoviesBack Up FilmsMorena Films, Submergence A.I.E. and U Media, in association with Atresmedia and with support from Movistar+. International sales are being managed by Embankment Films and the film will be brought to Spanish screens by eOne Films Spain.

(Translated from Spanish)

See also

Basque Cannes
Ex Oriente Film
Jihlava Film Fund

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