Movie Review: Berlin Syndrome

Who knew that jumping into the sack with a complete stranger could be dangerous? That’s what Aussie backpacker, Clare (Australian actress Teresa Palmer, looking a lot like Kristen Stewart with her auburn-dyed locks, HACKSAW RIDGE), learns on her visit to Berlin. She is there to take photos of the old East German architecture for a book she plans to put together when she gets back to Brisbane. On her second day in the city, she meets Andi (German actor Max Riemelt, TO LIFE!; THE RED COCKATOO), a handsome and charming local high school English teacher who offers to show her some of Berlin’s less touristy sights. It doesn’t take long before he asks her back to his flat, which is located in one of the city’s many abandoned Soviet-era apartment blocks. Even though there is no one within earshot of her when she gets there, Clare throws caution to the wind and has a great time with Andi. However, the next morning after Andi has gone off to work, Clare discovers that he has locked her inside. Of course, accidents like that happen every day but when Andi comes home that night, Clare realises that this was no accident. Andi has no plans to ever let Clare leave.

Australian director, Cate Shortland, has returned to Germany for this psychological thriller. Her last film, LORE (2012), a story about five siblings who must navigate their way across Germany at the end of WWII after their Nazi parents disappear, garnered more than a dozen awards worldwide including Best Director at the Beijing International Film Festival. BERLIN SYNDROME, which had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2017 and was released in Australia and Germany a few months after that, hasn’t done nearly as well. Not surprisingly, it racked up quite a few nominations at last year’s Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) Awards but it left the event empty-handed, going 0 for 8, and for good reason. It’s not that good a movie. While the performances by Palmer and Riemelt are credible, the story is rather one-note. Of course, Clare is going to get away (that’s hardly a spoiler) but Shortland makes us wait well over and hour before she does. Along the way, the film’s point of view shifts from Clare to Andi as the story tries to gives the audience some insight into his behaviour, as if understanding it will make it more acceptable. From time to time, we see Clare rambling about the flat. One could argue that she is adapting to her new situation, as the film’s title alludes to the Stockholm Syndrome, a condition where a hostage begins to develop an alliance with their captor as a survival strategy, but Clare’s state of mind is rather ambiguous. Is she adapting? We’re not sure. Meanwhile, we’re treated to more than a few red herrings including a mysterious room in the flat that only Andi can enter and a few sub-plots involving Andi’s elderly father, his dad’s dog, his colleagues at the school and one of his students. Unfortunately far too often, the story dangles a few carrots at us and only to toss them in the garbage while they’re still ripe.

I can think of at least a half a dozen ways this story could have gone (thankfully it didn’t follow the storyline of ROOM) and any of them would have been more thrilling than what we’re given here. Sadly, BERLIN SYNDROME is pretty lame fare.

Give this film a miss unless you’re a Max Riemelt fan, or if you are planning on going abroad by yourself anytime soon.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live in RTHK Radio 4’s studio on Thursday, March 8th at 8:30 am HK time!

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