For anyone travelling around the world can be a wonderful experience. One of self discovery especially when your young. In Cate Shortland‘s Berlin Syndrome, Theresa Palmer‘s journey becomes one of bone chilling resilience and terror.
Australian filmmaker is no stranger to putting her female lead characters through psychological torment. Somersault(2004), a young woman learns about the difference between love and sex the hard way. Lore (2011) A young girl forced to rely on someone she was taught to hate, living under Nazi Germany oppression. In her latest film, our protagonist finding liberation exploring strange new lands. The world may be her oyster but so are the dangers the lurk.
In Berlin Syndrome (2017), we meet Clare (Palmer) a young Australian travelling alone in Berlin, Germany. A care free, determined photojournalist eager to snap every intriguing photo opportunity she can get. Her quest crosses paths with Andi (Sense8‘s Max Riemelt), a charismatic local English Teacher. Irresistible, handsome charming man and Clare instantly attracted to him.
After spending a night together, Clare wakes up alone in Andi’s apartment. At first she takes no notice of it until she realises she’s locked in. With no key or any way to contact the outside world or even a way to escape. Clare must attempt to escape by confronting Andi in any hope to escape her new confined nightmare.
From the film’s title ‘Berlin Syndrome‘ you understand there’s a lot more meets the eye here. The film has a number of ‘Easter eggs’ with the first being the title is taken from The Stockholm Syndrome. Suggesting Clare the victim may fall or sympathise with her captor. But will it be a ploy to survive and wait for that chance to flee? As the film progresses you are left wondering if she truly does love him?
When Clare meets Andi, she’s offered the proverbial forbidden fruit, the Strawberries. Slowly the film taps into the 1990’s erotic thrillers Glenn Close, Michael Douglas used to appear in. this film is a step up from those trashy affairs, with a more darker, visceral approach. Avoiding those pitfalls you would expect in the genre. To be honest Cate Shortland doesn’t allow the film to settle in any one genre.
What Andi does to Clare is very hard to watch. Her imprison her, abuses her, torments her in every psychological way possible. A lot of the film is set in Andi’s apartment, you start to feel claustrophobic as the wall close in on Clare. You feel her frustration, her anxiety, her fears. When he does take her out he abuses her verbally and emotionally.
What are his motives for the actions? We do learn he was abandoned by his mother when he was young and was brought up by his father. But what drove her away? His father? Herself or even Andi? His relationship with his father now isn’t perfect and he missed a motherly figure in his life. Whatever happened it scarred him, made him the psychopath.
Berlin Syndrome is a gripping suspenseful film feels like it could have come from Polanski. Riding the waves of tension, an complex narrative that will intrigue and make you feel nauseating. Put aside some questionable dialogue , thanks to Germain McMicking‘s cinematography, and Byrony Marks inventive score we have a phenomenal chilling film.
Thriller, Horror | Australia, 2017 | 15 | Curzon Artificial Eye | Dir.Cate Shortland | Theresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich