Review: Teresa Palmer showcases a vigorously bold performance in Cate Shortland’s kidnapping drama, Berlin Syndrome. Adapting Melanie Joosten’s novel of the same title, Shortland creates a placid drama-thriller by devising sense of claustrophobic and two-person dynamic with Palmer as the center.
Portraying an aspiring Brisbane-based photographer named Clare, Palmer’s eyes unravel her character’s passionate spirit to find an adventure as a solo traveler in Berlin. It’s during her tenure in Berlin’s street that she meets a charismatic yet restrained schoolteacher, Andi (Max Riemelt, Sense8). There are some electric touches and reluctance before they finally engage in consent, non-commitment one-night stand. In the morning after, Clare wakes up to find that she is locked in Andi’s apartment, suggesting that the man simply forgets to leave the key for her. When the next morning she finds herself locked again, she finally realizes that Andi isn’t going to let her free. She’s simply kidnapped.
Shortland depicts Berlin Syndrome as a sensual imagery to possessive relationship or one-way commitment. The kidnapping drama comes full circle like stages of losing, in this case, of freedom. At the face of it, Palmer lends her range of emotion to portray shifts of stages.
It begins with denial as Clare refuses to believe that she’s kidnapped by a man whom she thinks she can trust. Then, it culminates in anger which fuels her series of reckless attempts to escape from her captor, injuring herself and Andi in process. Bargaining stage that follows is fused with depression, which she begins to show, before she finally accepts in what looks like a symptom of Stockholm syndrome. Palmer delves deep into each stage, providing us a bitter portrayal of kidnapping victim who breaks from the inside, before the cycle repeats.
While providing major presentation of the story’s core, Palmer’s character is a more straightforward piece compared to his captor, Andi. As the switch and the trigger, Andi always appears mysterious and probes more questions than exposition. At one point, he even honestly states his intention to Clare as he wishes that they “stay like this, not knowing each other.” Only with keen eyes and attention to subtexts around him, we can finally find slightly answers to his backstories and motivation.
Berlin Syndrome might feel contriving at some points while the circumstances depicted is only borderline to artificiality, but it’s working as constricted drama-thriller. Its tranquil presentation evidently becomes an obstacle to delve further into the story; but, it also becomes its best aspect in portraying captivation.
As a kidnapping thriller, it might offer nothing new. However, Berlin Syndrome cleverly captures the haunting of kidnapping without romanticizing it and presents it as a silent analogy to stages of grief.
Berlin Syndrome (2017)