Berlin Syndrome

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Theresa Palmer and Max Riemelt in Berlin Syndrome - a passionate holiday romance takes an unexpected and sinister turn when an Australian photographer wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.
"The sex element, while erotically shot, is almost exclusively reserved for the moment in which Clare was enjoying the experience, thus stripping away the usual voyeuristic downside that often accompanies this genre."

It's not often a critic can offer empirical proof that an audience has found a movie gripping, but when the world premiere screening of Berlin Syndrome suffered a DCP crash around 10 minutes from the end that froze the film, it was testimony to psychological thriller's success that only a small handful of people left the auditorium.

The suspenseful nature of the film, right up to its climax, was also underlined by the fact that, even after we had been told the rest of the plot by the director Cate Shortland and her cast, who gave an early start to the Q&A, virtually everyone remained to see the film play out after a DCP reboot.

Copy picture

By that point, we were all fully invested in the survival of Aussie tourist Clare (Teresa Palmer) in her bid to escape the clutches of her obsessive captor Andi (Max Riemelt). Shaun Grant, adapting his screenplay from the novel by Melanie Joost, has, alongside Shortland, carefully constructs the tension to that point, allowing the thriller elements to creep in almost unnoticed at first before they gather pace.

Clare seems like the last person to get involved in anything thrilling. A nervous type, she has taken the decision to visit Germany as a way of broadening her horizons but much prefers to interact with her surroundings via the lens of her camera than on a personal level. The film also has some fun, at first, with the very notion of Australian backpackers, with Clare being asked the age-old question faced by Aussies on tour, "Are you South African?".

As we are firmly wedded to Clare's viewpoint - the film's most winning selling point - even her encounter with Andi seems nothing more than an enjoyable romance rush at first. He's sweet and funny, quickly winning her over, although perhaps, to us, there is just a hint of something more sinister underneath. The morning after her one-night stand, however, she wakes to find herself unable to leave his apartment.

While the plot beats are familiar, the perspective is an unusual one, with Grant and Shortland using character to push their story onwards. There are some violent encounters, but this is as much about the psychological impact on Clare as it is about the physical danger she is in. The sex element, while erotically shot, is almost exclusively reserved for the moment in which Clare is enjoying the experience, thus stripping away the usual voyeuristic downside that often accompanies this genre. Palmer and Reimelt also deserve praise for the gradual way that they modify their characters, underplaying them initially to reap the benefits later on.

The film is also elegantly crafted, with Shortland making excellent use of light and the spaces of Andi's apartment to give a sense of longing for freedom and of, perversely, being trapped in what would otherwise be a very homely place. The psychological landscape is, for a long time, left open to interpretation - is Clare succumbing to the faux entreaties of Andi, Stockholm-syndrome style, or just playing along while looking for an endgame? The gradually quickening rhythm of the film is driven on by Bryony Marks' equally gripping score and if the climax recalls other films, it arrives there fresh from the journey.

Reviewed on: 07 Feb 2017
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A passionate holiday romance leads to an obsessive relationship, when an tourist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.
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