DIR: Cate Shortland • WRI: Shaun Grant • PRO: Polly Staniford • DOP: Germain McMicking • ED: Jack Hutchings • DES: Melinda Doring • MUS: Bryony Marks • CAST: Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Lucie Aron
Berlin Syndrome, adapted from a novel of the same name by Melanie Joosten, is Australian director Cate Shortland’s third feature film – starring Teresa Palmer as Clare, a young lone tourist from Brisbane navigating the streets of Berlin aspiring to capture the city’s architecture for a future photography project. Whilst waiting to cross a road, Clare meets Andi (Max Riemelt) by happenstance as he drops books and asks her to hold his box of strawberries as he gathers his belongings. Over these strawberries, Andi and Clare converse about their lives and there is an obvious mutual attraction between the pair, yet they part ways at the end of the day. Clare then retraces her steps the following day in the hope of encountering Andi once again, which she does. They retreat to Andi’s secluded apartment building for a one-night stand, and when Clare attempts to leave the morning after, she finds the front door and windows locked. When this occurs again the next day, Clare realises she is held captive by Andi in his apartment and will struggle to free herself.
This film exhibits the worst of misogyny and patriarchy, and Max Riemelt’s characterisation of Andi humanises these traits. He displays his contempt for women through Clare’s captivity and also displays his disgust and disdain at being touched by a female colleague in a harmless manner. Andi is an English teacher and appears to be a normal member of society, and this normality is a significant element of what makes Andi a sinister and despicable character, as Riemelt delicately humanises the misogyny without delivering an over-the-top performance. Teresa Palmer also delivers a nuanced performance as Clare through little details such as Clare’s breathing in her initial meeting with Andi. It foreshadows the film’s plot and Clare, who’s similar to the titular character in Paul Verhoeven’s Elle, knowingly flirts with male danger and has the agency to take the risk by herself.
The use of words is also used to great effect in providing glimpses of what’s to come for Clare and the film’s plot. Andi is an English teacher, and on his classroom blackboard in an early sequence, we see words such as ‘persecution’ and ‘suffocation’ that stand out amongst the array of words and sentences on the blackboard. There are also words used by Andi that are apparently misunderstood by him. He says to Clare at their first meeting when he brings her to his family’s garden, “I come here to complicate life”, to which Clare replies, “Don’t you mean contemplate?”. This ‘mix-up’ of words may seem accidental, but as the film progresses, perhaps Andi does not confuse his words.
Berlin Syndrome also effectively uses art to demonstrate the misogyny. Gustav Klimt’s work is referenced throughout the film and is admired by both Andi and Clare. However, the former uses the eroticism of Klimt’s works to influence his own photography of women, and predominantly the vulnerability of women in the presence of men such as Andi. There is also a sequence juxtaposing Clare’s captivity between a P.E class in Andi’s school. A gymnastics session takes place which nods to Henri Matisse’s Dance (La Danse) painting, which demonstrates the freedom of human movement and expression and this cleverly works against the juxtaposing environment of Clare in Andi’s apartment.
The negatives of the film lie within the editing and its overall running time. Suspense is crucial in a film such as Berlin Syndrome with the unknown fate of Clare, yet the film is too long for its denouement to truly deliver; although, this is a powerful film about the ills of man and the vulnerability of women at the hands of predatory men. Cate Shortland has delivered a high-calibre piece of cinema, in which Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt could deliver two high-calibre performances.
16 (See IFCO for details)
Berlin Syndrome is released 9th June 2017