Based on the book with the eponymous title written by Melanie Joosten, Berlin Syndrome is a nail-biting psychological thriller, an interesting and raw film, despite it’s central overused theme of perfect-guy-turned-psycho and it’s stereotypical male-female dynamic.
Clare, an Australian photographer interested in capturing the architecture of East Berlin, accidentally meets Andi, a native German who works as an English teacher, and the two seem to share an instant connection. However, as films care to warn us many times, appearances can be deceiving, and after spending the night together, Andi turns out to be a psychopath that locks Clare inside his apartment. After realizing she can’t leave, the woman gives him the benefit of the doubt, but when the “incident” is repeated the next day, she realizes that he is holding her captive.
Berlin Syndrome is a film that is brought to life and colored by its characters and their interactions, and which benefits from powerful performances from both Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt. Although the film tries to keep the same structure as the novel, shifting between perspectives of both characters in order to get a more global view of the story, it fails in making the audience empathize with Andi. Palmer gives a layered performance, displaying a wide range of emotions as the story intensifies. At the beginning, Clare seems to be a bit lonely and quite an introvert who prefers to interact with her camera rather than with other people but, as Andi shifts from the romantic teacher to his true maniac self, her character changes as well, despair, anger, resignation being some of the emotions which take over her. Walls seem to be the leitmotif in Berlin Syndrome, used to emphasize the idea of captivity – the walls of the apartment where Clare is being held, the Berlin wall – but also the elements which obstruct the view – the invisible wall that stops us from seeing past Andi’s actions and understand his motives.
The title “Berlin Syndrome”, although not clearly explained, makes us think of Stockholm Syndrome – the condition in which the person being held captive starts caring for the aggressor. However, the film only barely reaches a point in which we could suspect Clare as having developed some feelings for her aggressor. In addition, there are moments when we are led to believe that those feelings might be reciprocated, and therefore the film goes past the standard representation of this psychological condition.
After exploring the complexity of emotions in dramas such as Somersault(2004) and Lore(2012), director Cate Shortland tackles this time the intricacy of trauma in this gripping, slow paced thriller that keeps the viewers at the edge of their seats. Director of Photography Germain McMicking esthetically captures the raw brutality and violence, and focuses on details, the camera often showing extreme close ups of faces and body parts, which add to the creepy atmosphere.
Unfortunately, this eerie thriller falls flat in the end, the final conclusion making it seem that it is just unable to go past the stereotypes on which the story is built. Therefore, Berlin Syndrome is an emotional, suspenseful and striking film that seems to fit to the saying “it’s the journey, and not the destination that counts”
★★★ and a half