Berlin Syndrome

500 Days Of Film Reviews Thriller, Berlin Syndrome, Starring Teresa Palmer And Max Riemelt

While travelling alone in Berlin, Australian photographer Clare (Teresa Palmer) meets charismatic local English teacher, Andi (Max Riemelt). The couple feel an immediate physical attraction. However, after spending the night together, Clare wakes up alone in Andi’s apartment to discover the door locked and the windows secured. There is no means of escape. 

Is It Any Good?

The title of Cate Shortland’s stunning and claustrophobic thriller toys with the concept of Stockholm Syndrome - where a hostage develops sympathetic feelings for his or her captor. Berlin Syndrome takes this condition and expands it into a fascinating and unsettling exploration of a very disturbing relationship.

 

In the beginning, Andi is very much in control and Clare is the vulnerable victim of his extreme sociopathy. However, Clare comes to realise the power that she has over Andi and the various ways she can use this power in order to survive. 

 

 

Shortland is not interested in furthering stereotypes or cinematic tropes and, as a result, Berlin Syndrome does not feel like a traditional psychological thriller. For example, the film begins with Clare’s wide-eyed arrival in Berlin. A keen photographer looking for a meaningful life experience, she sees beauty and humanity all around her - and particularly in Berlin’s remaining GDP architecture.

 

Andi, however, is a resident who views those same, abandoned buildings as fulfilling an altogether darker purpose. Their initial, chance encounter (surely signaling the demise of the innocent meet cute) could have been the start of a Before Sunset-esque romance. Only the sinister score by Bryony Marks alerts us to the impending danger.

 

 

Having spent time exploring Berlin, Clare’s first morning in Andi’s utilitarian apartment is laden with tension and claustrophobia. Thanks to Teresa Palmer’s powerful and committed performance, Clare’s predicament - full of terror and panic - is utterly gripping.

 

Unlike Clare, we are not confined to one location in Berlin Syndrome. Shortland gives us real insight into Andi’s life outside the apartment. Brilliantly played by Max Riemelt, he seems (on the surface) like a nice guy. He is, after all, an English teacher who takes care of his father.

 

However, Andi’s very ability to maintain a “normal” life makes him all the more terrifying.

 

 

 

When Andi returns to Clare, Berlin Syndrome’s stifling tension becomes almost too much to bear. The more we understand Andi (and his sickness), the more we fear for Clare. While Shortland takes care not to let her film fall into exploitation, several scenes make for extremely uncomfortable viewing. 

 

However, Berlin Syndrome is also a visually stunning, cinematic experience. The film starts by using handheld cameras, moving to more static filming techniques as Clare’s world closes in. Meanwhile, cinematographer, Germain McMicking, uses light and shadow to great effect - often capturing startlingly beautiful images. 

 

Featuring two powerful performances, Berlin Syndrome is a deeply unsettling thriller that firmly establishes Cate Shortland as a director to look out for in the future.  

Random Observations

Berlin Syndrome was adapted from Melanie Joosten’s novel (of the same name).

 

The film was shot in both Berlin and Melbourne Australia (for the interior scenes).

 

Have you seen Berlin Syndrome? 

 

If you have, what did you think of this movie? Let me know in the comments section below or by getting in touch via Twitter or Facebook!

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