Berlin Syndrome – Film Review by Frank L
Director: Cate Shortland
Writers: Shaun Grant (screenplay), Melanie Joosten (novel)
Stars: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron
Clare (Teresa Palmer) is an Australian backpacker from Brisbane, who pitches up in Berlin for a couple of days as she tours Germany. With a photographer’s eye, the everyday grittiness of the city and its people intrigue her. At a pedestrian light, a handsome enough young German, Andi (Max Riemelt), speaks to her in English, using a punnet of strawberries as bait. They strike up a conversation, one thing leads to another and she spends the night in his apartment. The following day he leaves for work. When she tries to leave the apartment, she discovers the doors and windows are locked and that she is incarcerated.
The story proceeds contrasting his everyday life as a teacher with his very different persona with Clare in the apartment. Andi has two distinct personalities like that of the legendary Dr. Jekyll and Mr.Hyde. Clare shows how intelligent, brave and resourceful she is as she tries to work out a plan to outfox Andi. She is an Aussie of some considerable guts. But at times she experiences some of the more complex emotions which a prisoner may have for his or her captor which have come to be known as Stockholm Syndrome.
While most of the film takes place in Andi’s hermetically sealed apartment, Shortland evokes the overall feeling of freedom which permeates and pervades Berlin nowadays. Out in the city, at work as an English teacher and visiting his aged academic father, Andi is an exemplar of that freedom. He moves fluently between English and German while Clare is limited to English. Andi looks like a boy next door type. However trapped in the flat, Clare begins to realise that he is anything but a nice boy. Slowly she finds clues that she may not be the first young female to have been lured to the apartment. Although there are scenes of gut wrenching violence, Shortland keeps the thrust of the plot firmly in the mental struggle between Andi and his prey Clare.
While the screenplay is written by one Shaun Grant, it is based on the debut novel by Melanie Joosten with some additional material provided by Shortland. Riemelt and Palmer are perfectly cast for their respective roles in this cat and mouse drama and each of their performances are totally convincing.
The film may be a little bit too long (116 minutes) but the performances ensure that your attention does not wander. Berlin has a long and great movie history. This contemporary Berlin story from an Australian slant adds its own patina to that past. It is worth seeing.