Rarely does a movie make me literally cover my eyes, but BERLIN SYNDROME sure did…several times.
Based on the novel by Australian writer Melanie Joosten, BERLIN SYNDROME tells of Clare, an Aussie backpacker in Berlin, who meets a charming local Andi. What begins as a passionate affair ends in a violent obsessive capture, as Andi traps Clare in his apartment.
I haven’t read the novel, but it comes as no surprise this film stems from a literary source. It is rich in detail and is ‘slow burning’, favouring character development over action; In this way, the movie reads much more like a book than a film.
It is challenging material, with hardly what you’d call easy or enjoyable content. However, brave actors Teresa Palmer and Max Riemelt tackle it head on. They successfully convey the drama whilst managing to maintain a beautiful level of restraint. The motives of both our characters are not always clear. They are brilliantly (though sometimes frustratingly) complex.
Aussie Director Cate Shortland may have a skinny resume, but she knows her stuff. As well as being perfectly acted, BERLIN SYNDROME is stunningly shot. It doesn’t look like a small budget film.
The pace is slow, and the run time overlong. While this effects viewer enjoyment, it does accurately reflect the struggle of our victimised backpacker who spends a prolonged time in a monotonous state of capture. I can see why Shortland made the choice not to shy away from this, however, the film would have benefited from a tighter edit.
At nearly 2 hours long, the film drags and – funnily enough – the ending is somewhat rushed. It doesn’t quite give the pay-off or closure we seek after sticking with what is (at times) a difficult journey.
Despite its slow pace and overlong run-time, BERLIN SYNDROME is a very well made film. So well made in fact, that it is sickening and uncomfortably confronting. I can’t say I enjoyed watching it (at one point I felt physically ill) but this is testament to the quality of the direction and acting. They clearly realistically portrayed what is a truly harrowing situation.
I rate it 7 stars.