Film: Berlin Syndrome

Cast: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Matthias Habich, Emma Bading

Director: Cate Shortland

A cautionary tale embedded in a psychological thriller, Australian director Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome addresses the values of trust and freedom through the hazards of the lone traveller’s free spirited experiential lifestyle.

Holiday romances may be par for the course for liberals and Shortland makes her position all too clear in delineating the dangers of one night stands: confinement, torture, sexual slavery as “experienced” by the naive protagonist, Clare (Teresa Palmer), an Aussie photographer from who backpacks her way through Europe, where the viewer (and her captor) sights her in East Berlin.

Between shooting the cityscape in the day and socialising nights with fellow backpackers in hostels, Clare runs into a friendly German named Andi (Max Riemelt) in a bookstore.  They spend quality time hanging out together and end up in bed in Andi’s spacious apartment in an abandoned building complex. He is not a squatter unlike folks in the port town of Hamburg which also has the most amazing “derelict” structures. Andi teaches English to high school pre-teens, has a Literature professor for a father (Matthias Habich) and a bunch of friends too.

Shaun Grant who based the script on Melanie Joosten’s novel of the same name, packs the narrative with dissonant notes: why are your girlfriends always tourists, Andi’s father wants to know.

In Scripture, Greeks look for wisdom (Clare seems to be short on common sense) and Jews look for signs.

Your reviewer sees them in the meandering opening montage itself: Clare walks past a death’s head to click women in hijab or airing a rug from a narrow window. Strolling with Andi later in a garden, she picks up a wolf mask; a clever foreshadowing of the wolf in sheep’s clothing stalking the babe in the woods.

These telling markers are not lost on the viewer especially when Clare goes through the most harrowing experiences in the secluded apartment with unbreakable window panes and not a soul in sight. In an early passionate interlude, Clare tells Andi she wishes she could stay forever and he replies, “Maybe, I should tie you up…I prefer not knowing (the truth) since it hides the ugliness inside.”

Soon, Andi’s actions follow up the pillow talk. Did we tell you the sadist photographs the torture? Thus, this beautifully acted film diligently explores isolation and fear through an abusive relationship and “abnormal” man’s need to control and dominate while exploring Clare’s creepy relationship with her captor (hence the title inspired by the well documented Stockholm Syndrome)