Berlin Syndrome, 2017.
Directed by Cate Shortland
Starring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron, Matthias Habich, and Cem Tuncay.
A passionate holiday romance becomes a nightmare when an Australian photo-journalist wakes up in a Berlin apartment and find herself unable to leave…
A film delivering an assured yet uncomplicated look at obsession and social dysfunction, Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome showcases exactly what can go wrong with holiday romances. While the director of the excellent Lore does preside over a taut and emotionally draining story of stranger danger and abuse, it does not have as much success in originality or surprises. It goes over familiar ground to many abduction films (Room, Misery, Funny Games to name a few) but without the style and shock value of those features.
Following Australian photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer, Lights Out, Hacksaw Ridge) as she travels around Berlin on an extended break, we see the city through the eyes of an impressionable and sensitive traveller. Having met the charming Andi (Max Riemelt) by chance, the two go on to have a romantic and passionate encounter. After a late night, Clare wakes up in Andi’s apartment and finds the door locked with no obvious key. After he returns from his school teaching job, he attempts to brush it off and the cycle of imprisonment goes on.
The most interesting about the story is the question of how much does Clare welcome the imprisonment and how much does she really fight it. This is rather dodgy territory to say the least and leaves to an uncomfortable feeling of exploitation. The question is then left in favour of more traditional shock scenes, and is left to hang around in unsatisfactory manner.
The city itself is a major character in the early scenes, as the exteriors dutifully contrast with the minimal interior of Clare’s later confinement. For a city that celebrates personal freedoms of many different varieties, the openness of the place is clearly brought out. The editing and the score also play a large part in the feel of the film with a progressively doom-laden aspect produced early on.
Indeed, the film is deeply claustrophobic and unsettling with two strong central performances. The psychological aspect of Stockholm Syndrome is not spelled out in bold terms and the audience is left to work out exactly what Clare is doing in order to survive.
However, the film is longer than seems strictly necessary at just over two hours, and there is an air of repetition that sets in during the second half. Of course, ritual and repetition is part of the abductors’ repertoire but it does not necessarily need to be drawn out in such obsessive detail. The mental interior of the character could have been more subtly hinted at rather than covering the same ground again and again. Also, the plot points leading to the conclusion do not ring true, and seem to have been an attempt to work more traditional thriller type content into the mix. Unfortunately, It does not really work.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★
Robert W Monk is a freelance journalist and film writer.