2018 Glasgow Film Festival Review – Submergence (2018)

Submergence, the latest film from German auteur Wim Wenders is a starrier affair than many will be used to from the filmmaker. Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy head this hybrid espionage-thriller-cum-romantic-diving-drama. The results are as the curious splicing of genres would suggest.

James More (McAvoy) is a spy held hostage by Somali fighters on the east coast of Africa. Danielle Flinders is a deep sea researcher preparing to be submerged in the Greenland Sea. As both navigate their intense environments, the pair reminisces about their fleeting romance the previous Christmas.

Erin Dignam adapts JM Ledgard’s novel in a somewhat clunky fashion that one might expect from a tale the intersects three standalone narratives (the French chateaux set romance, More’s hostage situation, and Flinders’ upcoming diving expedition). Attempts are made to flashback to the budding romance between the pair and subsequently a natural chemistry is hinted at between the likable pairing of Vikander and McAvoy, yet is not given a substantial time to develop to achieve the emotional weight that should bookend the film.

With such extreme settings and themes – diving in Greenland and jihadist fighters in Somalia hardly fit hand in hand – there is a disjointed feel of Submergence which continues throughout. Whilst there is much thematic richness and symbolism in these settings (More isolated in the extreme heat, Flinders isolated in the depths of the sea, with both having a high chance of not making it out of their respective situations), this does not necessarily make for the most riveting of cinematic experiences. Failing to commit to either the spy or aquatic angles means that Submergence can also feel a little half-baked and ill-conceived.

Yet fortunately, Wenders and cinematographer Benoît Debie both appreciate the visual power of the medium – and this is subsequently a triumph in Submergence. The duo capture a lush rural beauty in the French countryside, whilst the visual splendour of the Greenland Sea is magnificent on the big screen. There is a transformative quality in the sun-baked African setting that becomes a prison to More.

Praise should also go to McAvoy and Vikander. McAvoy attempts to channel a Connery-esque charm into his spy role, which is generally achieved – whilst Vikander lends a welcome elegance and intellect to the proceedings as the articulate Flinders. Both characters are an unlikely pair, yet the actors ensure that it’s convincing

Andrew McArthur | [rating=3]

Drama, Romance | Germany, 2017 | 15 | Glasgow Film Festival | 18th May 2018 (UK) | Lionsgate UK | Dir.Wim Wenders | James McAvoy, Alicia Vikander, Alexander Siddig