Direction: Cate Shortland
Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich
Taking an unpredictable trip to a foreign country, meeting a charming stranger and having a rousing fling is in almost everyone’s bucket list. And at first, Berlin Syndrome does seem like yet another romantic film heading in the same direction, only that it is anything but that. Psychologically twisted and thrilling in a disturbing way, Berlin Syndrome is a genre film not typically for someone who is impatient and is looking for a cleanly cut climax.
Film opens to Australian photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer), walking the streets of Berlin with a backpack on her shoulder and a camera in her hand, shooting away the busy streets as she continues on her journey to find a purpose in life, a new calling, when she meets a charming young German named Andi (Max Riemelt). Andi, who teaches English in a local school, initiates the conversation by offering strawberries to Clare. The instance chemistry between the two is quite visible and it doesn’t take two seconds to realise where the story is heading when next day Clare finds herself in Andi’s ramshackle apartment, far away from the buzzing city and into his arms.
After passionately exploring each other’s bodies in bed, Andi expresses his desire to “stay like this forever,” to which Clare nods in agreement and wishes “she could stay here with him,” had she known how soon she was going to regret that wish, she would have used her words more carefully. Next morning Clare wakes up to find herself locked inside the apartment with Andi gone. The sickening reality is yet to hit Clare as she calmly roams around in the house, looking outside the thick glass window at the deserted shabby lobby of the building. When Andi gets back home, Clare asks him if he purposely locked her inside the house, a question Andi avoids by flirtatiously telling her that next time, he “might just tie her to the bed,” before he seduces her and indulge in a steamy shower sex. Next morning, Andi has left a key for Clare. Only problem? The key unlocks no door. As Clare finds herself trapped inside the apartment with unbreakable windows in a completely empty building, her mobile sim card gone and no telephone working, she starts to panic and finally comes in term with her worst nightmare.
At this point, yet another line from Clare and Andi’s previous conversation in bed, finds meaning. Andi had told Clare how it’s better when two people stay strangers and do not get to know each other, when asked, “What happens when you get to know someone?” Andi replies, “You see all their ugliness.” At this point we realize that Andi is not mentally stable as he kidnaps young naive girls, especially tourists, and keeps them in his isolated apartment as a prisoner while he documents them sexually through pictures for as long as he desires.
The story walks a slow path in the first twenty-five minutes but picks up a good speed after it finally throws the light on film’s main subject. However, the film will not keep you on your seat’s edge or make you bite your nails in anticipation nor will it bore you or give you a moment to take a quick glance at your phone.
Cate Shortland has created a fine film out of Shaunn Grant’s screenplay which doesn’t only make us scratch our heads in confusion but also gives us enough absorbing moments to sigh. While we expected to see a miserable twisted tale of a trapped woman, struggling and constantly fighting to break free, we were presented with a rather irritatingly calm and unpredictable plot, which ironically, didn’t leave us unsatisfied. As the story progresses, you will find yourself witnessing Clare lose her rationality as she falls prey to Stockholm syndrome without losing her will to be free as she hopelessly keeps trying to escape. The relationship that she shares with her captive, Andi, keeps flickering from moment to moment. Clare isn’t afraid to physically hurt Andi but on the other hand, she also feels some sort of empathy for him. It’s weird and unsettling to see Clare slowly becoming accustomed to her situation but then again, Andi is nothing close to the psychologically disturbed captors we have seen on-screen so far. He is rather calm, composed, and even gentle in some way. Yes, something is off about him but there’s no proper explanation as to what turned him into this monster and the reason behind his doings. While the film mainly circles around two characters, it’s the third supporting role that plays the key element in the film’s climax, which fails to create a hard hitting impact and rather leaves the audience with thought provoking possibilities.
Shotland’s subtle, different interpretation of ‘unusual’ is refreshingly thrilling and will not disappoint you. Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt, who got deep into the skin of their characters, carry the film on their strong shoulders with their commendable performances. If you are in search for a film that is far away from the definition of mainstream cinema or anything that reeks of commercialism, then Berlin Syndrome is just for you....