GFF 2018: The great Wim Wenders suffers a lapse of judgement at the helm of a soggy romantic thriller
Based on JM Ledgard's book, Submergence is both the title and theme of this un-romantic non-thriller from the great Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; Wings of Desire); while one character is physically submerged in the ocean, the other goes undercover in the hunt for a terrorist. And that on-the-nose symmetry is all Submergence has to offer. Despite big-name stars, Wenders' film will provoke nothing but indifferent shrugs from the few who choose to sit through it.
James More (James McAvoy) is an ex-paratrooper on the Eastern coast of Africa, attempting to disguise himself as a British aid worker with an interest in irrigation. More is captured and tortured for espionage, and his mind flashes back to the brief encounter he enjoyed with marine expert Danielle Flinders (Alicia Vikander) while holed up in a hotel in France. Flinders is also involved in a drama when her submersible gets into difficulties beneath the Greenland Sea.
Submergence begins with a couple of surreal images, notably children playing in an empty street oblivious to an imprisoned More forcing his arm through a hole in a wall. But Erin Dignam's script defeats such flourishes; More has the dated worldview of the 1960s James Bond, and presenting his struggle against Third World terrorism as a self-pitying background for his dull romance feels like a retrograde lapse of taste. As Flinders, Vikander has nothing to go on other than yards of technobabble and a painfully contrived sliver of drama.
With glib, dreary backstories to trade, the supposed attraction between More and Flinders plays out like Fifty Shades of awful: 'I love the smell of sweat,' is her banal opening gambit to him. Submergence sinks under the crushing weight of bad writing every time the characters open their mouths.
Screened as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 18 May.