Opening May 25, 2017
Directed by: Cate Shortland
Writing credits: Shaun Grant
Principal actors: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron, Mattias Habich, Emma Bading
With her earlier films Somersault (2004) and Lore (2012), director Cate Shortland proved her ability to make nuanced female-centric films on difficult subject matters. So when she was slated to direct Berlin Syndrome, a story of naïve Australian tourist in Germany’s capital who finds herself in the clutches of a madman, a high bar was set. Unfortunately, all that resulted was a film whose derivative plot and stereotypical characters overshadow some decent acting and interesting camerawork.
Clare (Palmer) is the most insufferable of tourists, wandering around the city taking photos in a daze without any knowledge of what she’s looking at. A point made clear when she talks proudly of her love and passion for GDR architecture as she takes photos in the distinctly West Berlin district of Kreuzberg. Her cluelessness continues when she literally bumps into the attractive Andi (Riemelt), and decides to follow him around for a long and completely unrealistic conversation. It is at this point that every Berliner in the audience rolls their eyes and knows where this is going, because it is obvious Andi is bad news. No Berliner is going to tell you that you’re brave for giving up a good job to come and wander around Berlin as an aimless layabout ‒ at least no Berliner who isn’t trying to get something from you. Of course clueless Clare doesn’t seem to think anything is odd, and quickly finds herself a bit obsessed with Andi, a state which is reciprocated much to her poor fortune.
The Berlin of Berlin Syndrome is a fantasy world, one that would undoubtedly fit into what Clare imagined the city would be like when she traveled across the world to visit it. Bleak architecture intermingled with graffitied, empty, derelict buildings (conveniently within sight of the TV tower and still getting coal delivered!) are the focus of what we see. Maybe this fantasy would have made more sense in the 90’s, but for a film that apparently takes place in the present it is a bit laughable in this gentrified and yuppie filled city. Clare finds herself isolated and locked away in the most densely settled and expensive area of the city. That takes considerable doing.
If these idiosyncrasies were the only failings of the film, it might still have been salvageable. Unfortunately, a weak script which essentially just rehashes every major trope of the kidnapping genre does not do it any favors. Clare continues to be clueless, helpless, and confused. It took a considerable amount of stupidity to end up in her position, but don’t doubt clueless Clare’s almost inhuman ability to take the most stupid possible option in any situation. Andi is your typical garden variety sociopath, no great insights here. Add to this the most unrealistic and needlessly dramatic conclusion, and Berlin Syndrome confirms its position as a mediocre film. ( )