Berlin Syndrome is Australian writer and director Cate Shortland’s darkest work and is more intense than her previous effort Lore (which confrontingly contrasted the central character’s sexual awakening with the end of World War II).
An adaptation of Melanie Joosten’s novel, it provides Adelaide’s own Teresa Palmer with her most complex role so far, and depicts contemporary Berlin as grey and forbidding, and scarcely a delightful tourist destination.
Aspiring photographer Clare is holidaying alone in the titular city, and Palmer’s playing is so strong that you’ll forgive the credibility gap (a smart woman in her late 20s from Brisbane – and she’s this naïve?). After a night in a hostel and some lyrical wandering-around scenes, Clare meets Andi (Max Riemelt), a local with a similar interest in art, and when she becomes keen on him (this is a Cate Shortland movie after all), she winds up in bed in his isolated apartment.
We’ve been warned that teacher Andi is not to be trusted, but Clare nevertheless does just that. After a day of confinement in his abode thinking he just forgot to leave her a key, she then discovers that she’s a prisoner, and Andi is revealed as an obsessive stalker who wants to keep her after her sweet pillow-talking promises. He’s not just a basic loon (like Terence Stamp in the granddaddy of the confined-woman epic The Collector), yet, while we’re allowed some explanation for his fractured mindset that doesn’t make him any the less dangerous, and Shortland’s staging of his violent rage is unlike anything she’s done before.
This is certainly worth seeing for Palmer and Riemelt’s performances, which prove so vivid that audiences should see past a script contrivance or two.
Rated MA. Berlin Syndrome is in cinemas now