A gruelling but formally beautiful kidnap thriller
Australian auteur Cate Shortland has a knack for casting promising young women in complex lead roles and drawing out powerful, authentic performances. Her latest meditation on female resilience, the bone-chilling Berlin Syndrome, follows the (mis)fortunes of wide-eyed backpacker Clare (Teresa Palmer), whose interest in GDR architecture has brought her to photograph Kreuzberg, Berlin. A modern day flâneuse, Clare’s radiant joie de vivre piques the interest of local Andi (Max Riemelt), who seduces and traps her in one of her beloved, abandoned Soviet buildings.
The genre mechanics of Berlin Syndrome’s overlong kidnap narrative, the visceral nausea felt by the audience – the will she or won’t she escape – almost eclipses the formal qualities of Shortland’s cinema, but not quite. The way light is used to reflect Clare’s freedom or lack of it, the queasy shots of seemingly unlevel walls once Clare is locked in, the foregrounding of female gaze and banally psychopathic Andi’s obsession with its containment. As such, it’s a film that warrants repeat viewings, though only if viewers can cope with reliving Clare’s gruelling ordeal.
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