Berlin Syndrome

 

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A Berlin drama that is startling but never in a good way.

 
Berlin Syndrome

Teresa Palmer

 

Watching Berlin Syndrome is a bizarre experience because it prompts a question which once asked refuses to go away. The question that arises is this: how is it possible that this film could be the chosen work of women? But the incontestable fact is that it is, and three times over at that. The director is the Australian filmmaker Cate Shortland, the producer is Polly Staniford and the film is an adaptation of a novel by Melanie Joosten.

 

This issue does not arise immediately. The opening scenes remind one of that very effective German film Victoria (2015). It's not just that both movies are set in Berlin, but the fact that each of them has as its central character a foreign girl visiting the city who, in a potentially dangerous move, links up with a stranger who resides there. In Victoria the heroine risks going out to the town at night with not one but four young men thus rendering herself vulnerable. Here Clare (Teresa Palmer), a lone traveller from Melbourne, allows herself to become so attracted to Andi (Max Riemelt), a stranger encountered in the street, that she postpones her planned departure for Dresden to spend the night with him.

 

Thus far these two films share the same appeal: they each offer an engaging but possibly foolish young woman who is particularly appealing to audiences of her own age who consequently identify with her while hoping that she will not come to grief. In Clare's case, she does prove to be a strong character rather than a cowed victim, but before long she discovers that Andi is keeping her prisoner. She is locked in and, since he lives in an isolated spot, nobody is likely to hear any cries for help.

 

For the greater part of Berlin Syndrome, which lasts almost two hours, we share her imprisonment and observe her thwarted attempts to get away. We do learn that Andi is a teacher of English (most of the film features English dialogue) and also come to realise that Clare is not his first victim. However, no real light is shed on what makes him a psychopath even if he does dislike the German State and obsessively blames his mother for deserting his father (Matthias Habich). The film is very well acted and for the most part directed with skill, but no allegory is suggested. Consequently, we are invited to spend virtually two hours watching a man manipulate and control a woman against her will. That's hardly new in cinema - in 1965 one could see William Wyler's The Collector - but it's a thoroughly unpleasant experience and one that towards the end plays with its audience. Made by a man, it would be all of that but not something very surprising; to find it created by women in this day and age is extraordinary, but the surprise is huge.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Lucie Aron, Emma Bading, Thuso Lekwape, Lara Marie Müller, Nassim Avat, Elmira Bahrami, Mascha Wolf, Viktor Baschmakov, Matthias Russel.

 

Dir Cate Shortland, Pro Polly Staniford, Screenplay Shaun Grant and Cate Shortland, from the novel by Melanie Joosten, Ph Germain McMicking, Pro Des Melinda Doring, Ed Jack Hutchings, Music Bryony Marks, Costumes Maria Pattison.

 

Aquarius Films/DDP Studios/Film Victoria/Screen Australia/Memento Films International-Curzon Artificial Eye.
116 mins. Australia/France. 2016. Rel: 9 June 2017. Cert. 15.