Three and a half stars
Director Cate Shortland
Starring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich
Running time 116 minutes
Verdict Travel romance with a chilling twist
BEFORE Sunrise, with Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy, filtered the holiday romance through an exquisite, rosy-coloured lens.
Berlin Syndrome is the nightmare alternative, a dark and cautionary tale for young women travelling alone.
Given the ending, there are unlikely to be any sequels (Richard Linklater’s 1995 classic spawned two: Before Sunset and Before Midnight).
A fan of GDR architecture, Clare (Teresa Palmer) has somewhat impulsively thrown in her job as a photographer for a Brisbane real estate firm and bought herself a plane ticket to Berlin.
It’s clear from her self-conscious demeanour at the rundown hostel she initially checks into that Clare is not a seasoned backpacker.
Her skittish behaviour also suggests that there’s something back home — a lover perhaps, or an over-protective mother — that she is keen to leave behind.
All of which makes Berlin Syndrome a fairly classic rite of passage.
Clare just crosses paths with the wrong guy.
Smart, charming and very European, Andi (Max Riemelt) doesn’t give any outward sign of being damaged goods.
After a chance encounter outside a second-hand bookstore, the two strangers spend the day together exploring the city (as Hawke and Delpy did in Vienna).
Their transitory, might-have-been connection changes gear when Clare decides not to travel on to the next town the following day as she had originally planned.
As soon as the handsome young couple consummate their attraction, the extent of Andi’s psychopathology begins to emerge.
After he leaves for work the next morning, Clare discovers that all the doors and windows of his immaculately-styled apartment have been sealed and the SIM card in her mobile phone removed.
Relationships are one of director Cate Shortland’s strong points, as she illustrated to great effect in her 2004 feature film debut Somersault, with Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington (a film with which Berlin Syndrome shares thematic parallels.)
During the course of Clare’s long and increasingly traumatic incarceration, the power dynamic of the couple’s relationship shifts and mutates.
As the title suggests, the captive eventually begins to exhibit signs of Stockholm syndrome, forging an alliance with her captor as a means of survival. (In this Berlin version, it’s not entirely clear whether or not she’s faking it.)
Signs of a previous tenant further up the ante by suggesting that Clare is living on borrowed time.
Shortland is an actor’s director and she draws a richly restrained performance from Palmer in a challenging lead role.
Reimelt also underplays his hand as the highly-literate captor with significant mother issues (she defected when he was a child, suggesting geopolitics as a contributing factor).
Berlin provides a strong dramatic backdrop for Shortland’s slick and atmospheric confinement thriller — through her lens, it’s an austere, eerie, underpopulated place.
The film’s ending, however feels a little rushed and unresolved.
It’s as if, in her desire not to be too florid or declamatory, Shortland has held a little too much back. This leaves the audience puzzling over some tantalising loose threads.
BERLIN SYNDROME OPENS ON APRIL 20
SOURCE: newsnow entertainment