ABOUT: Berlin Syndrome
The problem with films that chronicle captivity is that there’s really only two ways they can go: the victim breaks free, or they don’t. The trick is making the journey worthwhile. Cate Shortland’s “Berlin Syndrome” packs plenty of twists into its overinflated 116-minute runtime, and most of them are enough to recommend the “Somersault” filmmaker’s latest crack at satisfying, female-driven cinema.Berlin Syndrome
Bolstered by a strong performance from Teresa Palmer (who only gets better with each role, and seems happy to mix things up when it comes time to pick them), “Berlin Syndrome” doesn’t break much new ground in the genre, but it’s certainly a worthy entry into it.
The strawberry-distributing ghoul has decked out his abode with unbreakable soundproof windows and has a huge bolted lock on the door. Clare experiences a slasher film-like revelation when she picks up her mobile phone and discovers the sim card has been removed, then finds an album of Polaroids suggesting in no subtle terms she may not be Andi’s first victim.
The “Berlin” in the title is in lieu of “Stockholm”, with Shortland encouraging audiences to contemplate whether the protagonist is falling for her captor or is perhaps feigning affection in service of a long term-strategy to get out of there. It is also what Joosten reportedly described as a “delicious metaphor”, no doubt referring to the juxtaposition of the city’s history (it is based in an abandoned part of the former East Berlin) with the terrible restrictions imposed by Andi’s apartment.
Like last year’s bolder, more ambitious and significantly smaller-budgeted thriller Observance, I got notes of early Roman Polanski, such as 1965’s brilliant Repulsion – though perhaps more in aspiration than achievement. Having the nous and discipline to pull off that kind of claustrophobic, oxygen-depleting, walls-coming-in psychological thriller is no easy task. Shortland makes it harder on herself with the travelogue-style setup, and through her choice of handheld-heavy camerawork from the cinematographer, Germain McMicking (who shot Holding the Man and Partisan), which frequently cheats the film out of tight, interesting compositions.