Directed by Cate Shortland.
Starring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt and Mattias Habich.
For more Tyneside Cinema listings, click here.
Review by Gillian Rodgers.
Berlin Syndrome is the 2017 film adaption of a novel of the same name written by Melanie Joosten. Directed by Cate Shortland and written by Shaun Grant, Berlin Syndrome depicts the story of Clare, who has moved to Berlin to pursue adventure and new life experiences. She meets handsome Andi and what begins as a light-hearted, artsy film about the joys of travelling and meeting new people soon descends into much darker material, when the two embark on a one-night stand. However this ends up lasting much more than one night when Clare realises that she is unable to leave Andi’s apartment.
The concept of this film is intriguing because it is portrayed in a different light to other kidnapping films; the director spends a lot of time focusing on the small details. Visual images are very focused throughout the film, with close attention paid to detail. Expressions are vividly documented and movements are also centrally focused. This creates a real sense of unease and discomfort, which works well when portraying such sensitive and uncomfortable subject-matter.
Clare’s situation is unimaginable and we see her struggle to cope with her reality. We also witness odd moments of almost tenderness between Clare and Andi, despite the horrendous circumstances which have brought them together. These brief moments convince you – however fleetingly – that the situation isn’t real and that everything might be just fine; a reflection of Clare’s feelings. She is trying to reason away the mental conflict that such a devastating situation would create.
I also spent a great deal of the film trying to figure out Andi’s character, played by Berlin-born actor Max Riemelt. This role was cast incredibly well as Riemelt is strong and handsome but has a kind and charismatic face; we have to believe him to be someone a woman would trust and his natural charm makes that very possible. Clare is played by Australian-born actress Teresa Palmer and this too is skilled casting. She is convincing as a young woman intent on experiencing adventure, who struggles to accept the reality of what is happening to her and rebels in all of the ways an audience might imagine they would themselves.
The intense sound effects and imagery as well as the skilled use of music and silence make this an incredibly uncomfortable, tense and distressing film to watch. It is easy to slip into the tense atmosphere. The sounds are vivid, honed and almost amplified by the lack of background music. Often, everyday noises which we take for granted – such as the clipping of nails – become sinister when amplified.
It is also interesting to consider the extent to which Clare is trapped. These ideas are in constant opposition within her character and her behaviour, as she tries to make the best out of a bad situation. The repetitive backgrounds help to create a sense of claustrophobia, reflecting the fact that Clare’s world has shrunk into her apartment cage.
I think this is a thoroughly enjoyable film portrayed in an intelligent way. It gives you food for thought and leaves you wanting to understand more about the situation and the characters. Much like Andi and Clare are strangers to each other, they remain strangers to us despite the brief window of time we glimpse their lives. There are many twists and surprises throughout that keep you on your toes and keep you wondering about what the outcome will be. It is artistically shot, well-portrayed, acted with talent and gripping throughout, even though it is not necessarily an easy, light watch. The pros outweigh the cons though – catch a screening at Tyneside Cinema and see what you make of it!