Australian Cate Shortland has earned her filmmaking reputation through sensitive stories centered on female characters. She had her debut in 2004 with the satisfying coming-of-age tale Somersault, which featured Abbie Cornish as the protagonist. However, it was with the memorable and critically acclaimed drama Lore that she got more visibility, benefiting from a terrific plot and a compelling performance by Saskia Rosendahl in her first screen appearance. Indeed, this was a very special film that raised the bar too high for her next move, which happened this year with Berlin Syndrome.
This time around, the central character belongs to Teresa Palmer, an understated actress and model who has here another wonderful opportunity to show her acting capabilities after Warm Bodies (2013) and Lights Out (2016).
“…carefully fabricated to provide the ultimate excitement that a thriller requires.”
She plays Clare, an Australian photographer that arrives in Berlin to enjoy some leisure days while working for an architecture project she had in mind for some time. Feeling lonely in a strange city, Clare shows availability to meet new friends and perhaps embark on a casual romance. And that’s exactly what happens after she bump into a handsome schoolteacher, Andrei (Max Riemelt). Despite the unhidden, intense passion they share with each other, there are certain details in Andrei’s behavior that makes us question what goes in his mind. This relentless feeling that something is not right is reinforced by the uncanny musical score composed by Bryony Marks, which sort of works as an alert for the nightmare that follows.
Little by little, the sweet cosmopolitan romance develops into a disturbing abduction thriller when Clare gets trapped in Andrei’s cloistered apartment after a one-night stand. At first, she believed it was a mistake, but soon comes to the conclusion that the man she slept with was an obsessive psycho whose past was already stained with blood.
“…crafted the captivating first part with heart-pounding conjecture…”
Without breaking new ground, Shortland, who directed from a script by Shaun Grant (The Snowtown Murders) based on the novel by Melanie Joosten, crafted the captivating first part with heart-pounding conjecture but ultimately allowed things to go astray in the final section, carefully fabricated to provide the ultimate excitement that a thriller requires.
If humiliation and frustration are commonly associated with the genre, compassion and desire are very unlikely to be felt in a harrowing situation like the one Clare was living. In the end, it’s inevitable to think that Berlin Syndrome could have been more thrilling and less manipulative than it was. Still, it’s a tolerable exercise that shows Shortland’s potentialities in a genre she’s probing for the very first time.
Berlin Syndrome (2016) – Written by Shaun Grant and directed by Cate Shortland. Starring Teresa Palmer, Max Riemelt, Emma Bading, Lucie Aron.
6 out of 10