Fortunately, she’s going to end up having the kind of ‘life experience’ that young travellers have in movies. Unfortunately, that experience is less like one from Before Sunrise and more like one from Hostel.
Andi is the tall dark stranger that Clare might have been hoping to bump into. He’s sexy, intense and courteous; maybe a little OCD, but that’s just Germans for you, right? In any case, Clare allows herself to be led back to a hipsterish flat in an otherwise empty housing block. Sensitive Andi’s bedroom style turns out a little forceful, surprisingly but not unappealingly, and in the morning he leaves for work.
Somehow he forgets to give Clare the key to the incredibly ominous security bar across his front door, so she’s stuck indoors until he gets back from work. This isn’t so bad – even if he did it deliberately, it’s nice to feel wanted – but when it happens the next morning too, Clare starts to panic. She’s right to.
Shortland could have made a clammy, frantic thriller if she’d kept the film focused on Clare, and Palmer certainly seems more than able to carry a chamber piece by herself. But Berlin Syndrome ends up following Andi for whole stretches at the cost of tension.
It seems that the film is trying to explain its villain (think Norman Bates with a thing for toenails), or to say something profound about the country he lives in. Shortland’s previous film was the dazzling Lore, an adaptation of Rachel Seiffert’s novella about the daughter of a Nazi officer, and Berlin Syndrome touches on the subject of knowing and forgetting in Germany’s history; at least, a copy of WG Sebald’s Austerlitz makes an appearance. But the tawdry story of imprisonment and abuse is not elevated or deepened by the proximity of prize-winning fiction. It needed to absorb literary ideas rather than merely nod at them.
As always, Shortland does marvels with texture and sound. Her close-ups of the human body in particular – whooshing eyelashes, rasping of hangnails, hair scrunched by scissors – evoke the dual allure and horror of physical contact with strangers. But while Berlin Syndrome is visually arresting and tonally interesting, it remains psychologically flat and thematically unfocused.
|What||Berlin Syndrome film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
09 Jun 17 – 09 Aug 17, Times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here for more details|