Berlin Syndrome, 2017.
Directed by Cate Shortland.
Starring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron, Cem Tuncay, Matthias Habich, and Emma Bading.
A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.
First impressions are important but never tell someone absolutely everything about a person. Typically, everyone can have secrets, and the charming good-looking guy with a well-paying job in a respectable field is no exception. Berlin Syndrome is unparalleled in presenting the above-described snake of a man; for once in a film you can’t really blame the woman for going off and getting involved with some shady being expressing nefarious motives because here none exist. Andi (Max Riemelt in a groundbreaking performance dependent on his cunning attributes and seduction ability to slip into this nasty, multi-dimensional role) is the guy most girls would be happy to bring home to their family, giving off zero sinister vibes.
Obviously, this isn’t the case as he’s actually a serial kidnapper of foreign women visiting Germany. We know this because marketing has made it known, but I’m willing to bet that if anyone turned on Berlin Syndrome completely oblivious to its premise that they would assume, based on the first 30 minutes, that it’s an erotic romance. The acting is that phenomenal (I haven’t even gotten to Teresa Palmer yet who also gives a star-making performance), as Andi leads two different lives with the strong and focused direction from revered director Cate Shortland (Lore, Somersault) expertly weaving between following around his good and evil side.
Berlin Syndrome also reveals itself to be a masterful piece of filmmaking by somehow finding a way to actually make audiences sympathize with the mentally ill Andi. During his English teaching, he seems to enjoy utilizing passages that discuss shame and drifting through life searching for a purpose, which is not a far-off description from the man himself. He legitimately shows himself to be a sane and caring person outside of his sordid sexual abducting, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he does despise his actions and is self-loathing deep down. The lines are blurred further during another emotional scene, often making it difficult in an applaudable way to accurately assess Andi.
Still, the setup of the movie is a kidnapping for sexual release and fantasy fulfillment, which Teresa Palmer (last seen giving impressive performances in Hacksaw Ridge and Lights Out) is able to play the tortured Clare with skill beyond her years. Her mental state swings from sexual satisfaction and possible love to total fear (she desperately tries to escape at one point with physical violence) to seemingly and depressingly accepting her situation with submissiveness. The direction presents time passage in hypnotic fashion and makes stunning usage of lighting and dimming to creepily add to disturbingly perverted sequences of Andi photographing Clare explicitly for his own personal private collection. Facial expressions and body language are images that speak thousands of words here, and both Andi and especially Clare run the gamut of emotions, so staying attentive is paramount.
By now, it should go without saying that the duo is electric together, whether it’s one of the highly steamy and passionate sex scenes, the two violently going at each other in a cat and mouse game, or trying to understand one another psychologically. Both characters are written beyond the generic trope of kidnapper vs damsel in distress, and multiple viewings will certainly reveal more into their mental state. Don’t expect Berlin Syndrome to answer every question you have; sometimes it’s scarier leaving some aspects unknown which definitely is effective here.
It is a bit too far-fetched how Andi goes about keeping up this whole charade without getting caught, and similarly how Clare can remain captured in an entire flat (highly secluded or not) without finding another means of escape, but they are gripes worth rolling with thanks to the powerful performances and profound character work. The ending will come as no surprise, but by the time it’s over these characters will linger in your mind. Stellar direction and an exceptional, committed cast elevate Berlin Syndrome beyond clichés into one of the most rewarding experiences of its kind.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★