Review: ‘Rubikon’ (2022), starring Julia Franz Richter, George Blagden and Mark Ivanir

July 27, 2022

by Carla Hay

George Blagden, Julia Franz Richter and Mark Ivanir in “Rubikon” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

“Rubikon” (2022)

Directed by Magdalena “Leni” Lauritsch

Some language in German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in outer space in the year 2056, the sci-fi drama film “Rubikon” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with one black person and one Asian person) portraying astronauts on a space station who have escaped from an apocalypse on Earth.

Culture Clash: Astronauts who are on board the space station (which is called Rubikon) have to decide whether or not to return to Earth when they find out there are certain survivors on Earth. 

Culture Audience: “Rubikon” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching dull, poorly acted and nonsensical science-fiction movies.

Julia Franz Richter in “Rubikon” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films/IFC Midnight)

The sci-fi drama “Rubikon” is about people on a space station who are trying to stay alive after escaping from an apocalypse on Earth. Viewers will try to stay awake while watching this horribly acted and boring snoozefest. Making matters worse, “Rubikon” has some plot developments that are terribly structured or make no sense at all.

The characters in the movie don’t come across as very authentic or relatable. In other words, it will be hard to root for anyone on board this space station. The sloppy and abrupt ending of “Rubikon” is an example of the many things that are wrong with this movie.

Directed by Magdalena “Leni” Lauritsch (who co-wrote the awful “Rubikon” screenplay with Jessica Lind), “Rubikon” takes place entirely in outer space in the year 2056. “Rubikon” is the feature-film debut for Lauritsch and Lind. Everything about this movie looks like a director’s first feature film because the storytelling is so amateurish and filled with plot holes.

There are some exterior scenes in the movie, but the vast majority of scenes take place inside a space station called Rubikon. Unrealistically, it’s implied that the small number of people in Rubikon are the only Earth apocalypse survivors who have the responsibility to float through space to find survival methods for the people left behind on Earth. The survivors who are left on Earth have a greater chance of surviving if they’re wealthy enough to afford special privileges.

Title cards in the beginning of the movie give this background information: “In 2056, the world’s environment has deteriorated beyond a critical state. Only the rich can afford to live in ‘air domes,’ which filter the contaminated outside air. Big corporations have replaced governments and states.”

The statement continues, “Conflicts over resources and territorial borders are resolved by their corporate armies. All attempts to find refuge in space have failed. The Nibra Corporation owns the last extraterrestrial research base still searching for solutions to the environmental crisis.”

All of this sounds like an intriguing plot for a movie. It’s too bad that “Rubikon” does not even come close to depicting the “haves” and “have nots” part of this promised story. At one point in the movie, the people inside Rubikon get a call from a woman who claims to be an Earth survivor in an undisclosed location. That’s it.

All that the “Rubikon” movie has to offer are very dull scenes of a small crew of six people on the space station who have forgettable and generic personalities. They are commander Hannah Wagner (played by Julia Franz Richter), commander Phillip Jenson (played by Nicholas Monu) and crew members Gavin Abbott (played by George Blagden), Tracy Sato (played by Daniela Kong), Danilo Krylow (played by Konstantin Frolov) and Dimitri Krylow (played by Mark Ivanir), who is Danilo’s medical doctor father.

For the most obvious reasons possible, Hannah, Gavin and Dimitri end up being the only ones left on Rubikon. Dimitri barely mentions the circumstances under which his son Danilo is no longer with them. Several monotonous scenes then ensue. And after a while, Hannah, Gavin and Dimitri act like Phillip, Tracy and Danilo didn’t even exist.

There’s a useless subplot of Hannah, whose first language is German, briefly communicating by video with her sister Knopf (played by Hannah Rang), whose real name is Mia. Knopf is also a space traveler who’s on a mission that’s never clearly explained in the movie. Whatever it is that Knopf is doing, she’s in a flea-ridden environment, and now she has fleas on her body. Viewers know this because Knopf shows the fleas to Hannah during a video chat. If you think this character detail about Knopf’s hygiene problem is fascinating, then “Rubikon” is the movie for you.

Hannah, Gavin and Dimitri are contacted by a mysterious woman identifying herself as Esther Kaminsky (voiced by Stephanie Cannon), who communicates with them only by audio. Esther claims that she represents about 300 survivors who are in a secret colony location on Earth. Esther says that this secret colony is living in a bunker and running out of oxygen.

Hannah and Gavin want to return to Earth to rescue these survivors, while Dimitri vehemently disagrees, because he’s worried that the space station is not equipped with enough food, resources and oxygen levels to help 300 people. A major plot hole in the movie is that Hannah, Gavin and Dimitri never ask Esther for enough proof of what she’s claiming (for example, Hannah, Gavin and Dimitri don’t ask to speak to anyone else who’s in Esther’s supposed colony), which makes these space explorers look like they lack common sense.

“Rubikon” has a lot of talk about the algae symbiosis system that’s on the space station. It’s mentioned that because oxygen in the space station needs to be maintained at certain levels, at least three people need to be in the space station at all times, or else the high levels of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen will be fatal. As the only medical doctor in this group, Dimitri is adamant that three people be in the space station at all times.

Therefore, when Hannah and Gavin are contemplating leaving Dimitri behind on the space station to go on a spaceship to rescue the secret colony, Gavin and Hannah don’t really consider that it would mean probable death for Dimitri. It’s another plot hole in the movie. “Rubikon” also never properly explains how Gavin and Hannah would be able to bring enough breathable oxygen with them if they returned to Earth for this mission to rescue 300 people. There’s also a very clumsily handled subplot about one of these team members being suicidal.

One of the biggest problems with “Rubikon” is Nibra Corporation’s presence is barely depicted in the movie at all. The people on board the Rubikon have supposedly lost contact with ground control. But they have hard-to-believe reactions to their communication being cut off from their only source of funding. Overall, these space travelers are unrealistically nonchalant about it.

The only real mention of how social class affects people’s attitudes and chances of survival is early on in the movie when Danilo (who’s very jealous of Gavin) questions why Gavin is at this space station, because Gavin is the son of an executive who could afford to provide Gavin with the air dome living that’s exclusive to Earth’s wealthy people. Other than that quick mention, “Rubikon” gives no sense of the wealthy people on Earth who live in air domes and how these elites could affect any missions enacted by the Rubikon space explorers.

“Rubikon” never adequately explains how only one space station with six people (later reduced to three people) could be responsible for saving Earth, considering all the space programs that exist in various countries. Viewers are supposed to believe that all the other space exploration professionals in the world somehow disappeared or died because of the toxic air, which is called “permafrost gas” in the movie. Even though “Rubikon” is a science fiction movie, so much of “Rubikon” comes across as ridiculous nonsense.

Adding to the phoniness of “Rubikon,” the cast members give abysmal performances, with Franz Richter being the worst of all. Her acting is very stiff and almost unwatchable. Viewers will learn almost nothing about these “Rubikon” characters, except for Gavin, who comes from a rich family, and he briefly talks about his past as an idealistic “make the world a better place” activist. As a leader, Hannah isn’t very smart, and she has no charisma.

“Rubikon” isn’t the worst sci-fi flick you can ever see. The cinematography, visual effects, production design and costume design are adequate. But viewers will feel like if this dimwitted Rubikon space team is supposed to be responsible for saving other human beings on Earth, then the people on Earth are better off taking their chances with an apocalypse.

IFC Films/IFC Midnight released “Rubikon” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on July 1, 2022.

Review: ‘Undine’ (2020), starring Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski

July 4, 2021

by Carla Hay

Paula Beer in “Undine” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

“Undine” (2020)

Directed by Christian Petzold

German with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Berlin, the dramatic film “Undine” features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A water sprite in human form is conflicted between two human lovers and how these romances will affect whether she will live happily ever after or if she will be doomed to a life that she doesn’t want.

Culture Audience: “Undine” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in artsy European films that are contemporary interpretations of fairy tales.

Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer in “Undine” (Photo courtesy of IFC Films)

Based on the fairy tale about a water sprite who takes on the form of a human, the dramatic film “Undine” unfolds like a fever dream rather than straightforward story. The movie’s visuals and acting are compelling, but might not be enough to hold the interest of people who aren’t already familiar with the Undine mythology. It’s a movie that requires patience and curiosity to see how everything is going to end, because the heroine of the story wants to defy her fate.

Written and directed by Christian Petzold, “Undine” takes place in Berlin and has some bold-risk-taking in this often-abstract version of the Undine fairytale. This movie’s title character is Undine Wibeau (played by Paula Beer), a historian who works at the Senate for Urban Development and Housing, where she gives guided tours to visitors. Much of her guided tours involves showing model replicas of what Berlin and plans fo the city’s development. Undine looks like a woman who’s in her 20s, but she’s really a water sprite who has this curse of having to kill any man who becomes her lover and betrays her.

The beginning of the movie is the break-up scene that sets in motion what follows for the rest of the story. At a cafe table directly outside the building where Undine works, she is having lunch with her soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Johannes (played by Jacob Matschenz), who is trying to let her down easily as he ends the relationship. It’s later revealed in the story that Johannes is already romantically involved with someone else named Nora (played by Julia Franz Richter), and he doesn’t want to leave Nora to be with Undine.

As Johannes leaves the table to gets some coffee, Undine starts crying but quickly wipes away he tears when Johannes comes back to the table. She tells him ominously, “You said you love me forever. If you leave, I have to kill you. If you leave here, you have to die.”

Undine says that she has to go back to work because that she will return to the table in half and hour when she’s on her break. She tells Johannes that she expects him to be at the table when she gets back. And when she sees him again, Undine tells Johannes that he better declare his love for her. She even looks out of the building window to check and see if Johannes is still there.

If would be incorrect to assume that “Undine” is going to turn into a “Fatal Attraction” type of movie, with Undine as the jilted lover who spends most of the story stalking the man who dumped her. Instead, this artfully directed but quirky film goes in an entirely different direction. Shortly after this break-up with Johannes, Undine meets another man who becomes her next love. His name is Christoff (played by Franz Rogowski), an industrial diver with an introverted personality.

Whereas Johannes was cold and standoffish, Christoff is warm and romantic. After one of Undine’s guided tours, which had Christoff in the tour group, Christoff shyly approaches Undine, flatters her about her tour guide skills, and asks her out on a date. Undine is so distracted over her problems with Johannes that she just stares at Christoff and doesn’t give an answer.

Christoff nervously backs into a shelf, which causes the other furniture in the room to vibrate. This movement has a domino effect that ends with a very large aquarium in the room tipping over and smashing completely. The force of the water crashes over Christoff and Undine, who are both knocked to the ground.

It’s an awkward way to start a relationship, but somehow this bizarre accident quickly bonds Christoff and Undine together. They have a passionate romance, which includes their shared love of diving underwater. During one of their diving dates, Christoff demonstrates a romantic gesture by showing Undine a brick wall that has her name on it.

Christoff begins to suspect that there’s something unusual about Undine during this diving date, when she briefly disappears underwater. When Christoff sees Undine a minute or two later, she’s holding on to a dolphin, but she isn’t wearing her scuba gear. Undine suddenly passes out from lack of oxygen.

Christoff rescues Undine and gives her cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), while chanting the chorus to the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive.” (It’s one of the movie’s many quirks.) Undine makes a quick recovery and asks Christoff to do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on her again. He’s reluctant to do so because he’s afraid someone might see them and think she’s really in distress. Christoff tells Undine that he can grant her wish when they get home.

“Undine” is filled with scenes like that, where not everything fits in a cohesive manner, but the the details of movie are presented like a jigsaw puzzle that viewers are expected to piece together on their own. Johannes isn’t completely out of the picture. There’s a pivotal scene on a bridge where Christoff and Undine are embracing each other as they walk past another couple, who are walking in the opposite direction.

The other couple are Johannes and Nora. Undine stares at Johannes, Christoff notices, and Christoff expresses some insecurity that Undine’s heart started to beat faster when she looked at the other man. Undine won’t tell Christoff about Johannes or her history with him, but this encounter plants some seeds of jealousy in Christoff. Meanwhile, Christoff has a co-worker named Monika (played by Maryam Zaree) who might have more than platonic feelings for Christoff.

Cinematically, “Undine” is a gorgeous and sometimes haunting film to watch. However, it’s not the type of movie that will be enjoyed by people who want to see more conventional ways of telling a love story. The movie’s greatest strengths are in how it presents thought-provoking themes about destiny versus free will, as well as forgiveness versus revenge, and how these themes fit into the overall concept of pursuing love that makes someone happy. Petzold’s direction and the cast members’ acting achieve a tricky balance of bringing a realistic emotional tone to a fairy tale that’s been told many times but never before in this idiosyncratic and memorable way.

IFC Films released “Undine” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and VOD on June 4, 2021. The movie was released in Germany and other countries in 2020.

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