Berlin Syndrome tells the story of a passionate holiday romance that leads to an obsessive relationship when an Australian photojournalist wakes one morning in a Berlin apartment and is unable to leave.
Many Australian films tend to go unnoticed, especially ones like Berlin Syndrome. The only reason why I knew of this film is because I actively seek decent films, especially since they’re few and far between. There has been the odd surprise that gets the world talking and makes us Australian’s proud of our country as well as those filmmaker’s that haven’t escaped to America or Canada to seek better opportunities that wouldn’t have been found here. And then there is the trash that makes us want to slink away and disassociate ourselves with such work. Berlin Syndrome is a strange mix of in-between as I was personally taught by the co-writer of Cate Shortland’s previous effort Lore, in which she wrote along with him.
Not only did Lore take my interest, and even her first directorial effort in Somersault, Shortland isn’t a woman that’s scared of making films about the uncomfortable or shows almost disgustingly excessive nudity that totally seems unnecessary. No, I don’t want to see Clare (Teresa Palmer) receiving oral sex from Andi (Max Riemelt) or prancing around in “seductive” underwear and making crude gestures. Subtly would’ve been better suited, as much of the rest of the film proved. When I heard Shortland talk about the film in an interview a few months ago, it made me want to keep an eye out for it at the cinemas and boy was it infuriating to watch, taking all my self control not to shout at the screen.
Berlin Syndrome takes a well worn genre and a traveller’s nightmare and attempts to turn it on it’s head. Although the majority of the film remains to be intensely thrilling, Palmer’s performance seems to be overacted and infuriatingly unbelievable. This can be stemmed from the opening moments of the film when her character completely misses all the signs that Andi was giving in their initial ”meet-cute” moments. Who gives a woman that they’ve just met, with absolutely no mutual friends to vouch for their character, a kiss on the cheek? And who wouldn’t see that as the first sign to run for your life? And who would accept a lift from someone that they didn’t know more than a few hours? How is that length of time a good judge of character? And wouldn’t you get a feeling that this guy she falls holds something off about him? From what we see in the opening moments of the film, there is absolutely nothing that would draw the two together. There’s even no sexual chemistry between them that would even make us, as the audience, even consider that there was anything remotely between them that would set off a spark, even for the night.
It wasn’t the fact that Palmer and Riemelt were miscast, as Riemelt proved to be a brilliant portrayer of his creepily disgusting character, but it just felt as if there was something lacking in the script at the beginning that would link in with the rest of the powerful film. It made me so frustratingly angry because if you were to go out travelling alone and be that incredibly thoughtless, it really becomes a question of that person’s character and that they really shouldn’t be travelling alone in the first place. And even if you aren’t, you have to be so careful when going out at night, or even in general.
There are many elements that do work in the films favour that do keep you in your seat instead of pulling you out and back into reality but as I said, the moments such as nothing much happening until the second act and logical inconsistencies that bring you back to reality when you had once been so engrossed. It’s no surprise that we might judge the actions of the characters and what we may have done differently but with Berlin Syndrome, it’s so undeniably frustrating. I know I have ranted and raved about it but it’s the true downfall of the film that could’ve been so great and groundbreaking for the well worn genre.
Berlin Syndrome isn’t something that the creative team should be ashamed of, it’s just that if more time was taken with these frustrating moments, things could’ve been different and more ironed out. All in all, Shortland’s work continues to prove itself to be provocatively ambitious.