Die kleine Meerjungfrau

Die kleine Meerjungfrau is a 2003 German TV adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story. Directed by Irina Popow, it stars Zoe Moore as Undine the little mermaid, and Philipp Danne as Prince Nikolas. There have been a couple of live-action takes on the little mermaid’s story but they've been limited by the filmmaking technology of their time, which has since moved on. This film certainly does its best to fill the gap of that potential, depicting the merfolk of Undine’s world with beautiful (if brief) underwater sequences, coupled with sweet, earnest and mature storytelling.

Undine is the youngest mermaid princess, blessed with a kind heart, a beautiful voice, a curious mind and a loving family. She visits the ocean surface to spy on the landfolk, and regales stories of what she’s seen to her father and sisters. One day Prince Nikolas, who is to be married to a princess he has never met, goes into the ocean for a swim and almost drowns. Undine is there to save him and drag him to shore, but she quickly swims away when a young woman arrives at the beach and wakes Nikolas up. Undine returns home but she cannot get Nikolas out of her mind — she has fallen in love.

Undine’s story follows its familiar turns. She trades her voice for legs from the eerie and mysterious sea witch, and goes on land to become the prince’s adoptive little sister. This movie depicts Undine and Nikolas’ relationship really sweetly, with both of them clearly protective and fond of each other, but only Undine’s side is romantic. Nikolas’ love for Undine is purely platonic, and I thought it was really well telegraphed, what with Nikolas' nicknames for Undine, and how the movie has Undine dressed in Nikolas’ oversized clothes to make her look more childlike than how she appears as a womanly mermaid, and when Undine dresses up in a gown to impress Nikolas, he is kind and dances with her, but admits that he likes her better when she is herself. Nikolas also looks at and responds to Princess Anneline — the woman he saw by the beach, and coincidentally his betrothed — very differently than how he does to Undine.

The sea witch in this version is a benevolent mistress. She knows the past and future, which in some ways makes her more powerful than the sea king, and she is the one who comes back to fetch Undine at the end of her story as a human maiden. Undine was to die since Nikolas had chosen another, but she was given the chance to save herself by killing Nikolas with a dagger. But it's a test of her love, and in refusing to kill Nikolas, she has proven her pure heart and passed. The sea witch then invites Undine into her next life, where she can explore the world and more. It is a quiet ending that is happy and melancholy at the same time, and the sadness that really got to me was that after leaving her father and sisters, now she must leave Nikolas as well. Undine's capacity for love and kindness touched all those who knew her, and all things considered it is a good legacy to leave behind.

There are some gorgeous underwater scenes at the beginning of the film, with the mersisters playing together under the sea. The mermaids have a glittering, ethereal look, and their crowns appear to be woven from their own hair, or something similar, which is certainly unique. This film also cleverly gets around the problem of how to have the merfolk “talk” when they’re not on the ocean surface… Here, the sea king and his daughters’ home is an underwater cave, where Undine gets to sit in a swing and her sisters lounge around in large shells. It’s a nice touch.

The DVD of this film is available to buy online though it does not appear to have English subtitles.

Many thanks to Jetsam for letting me know about this film, and to Juzzy for letting me know there's an English-subtitled version up on youtube!


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