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Berlin Syndrome, Max Riemelt, Teresa Palmer
Photo: Max Riemelt, Teresa Palmer

A genre film which combines the precise psychology of kidnapping films with solid horror effects, and a “Martial Arthouse” experiment with hard-core fight scenes and fast-paced sequences: “Berlin Syndrome” and “Tiger Girl” conjure up a dangerous Berlin.

Lots of people loved Tiger Girl (Panorama Special), and it’s easy to understand why: German cinema does not often feature strong characters, hard-core fight scenes and fast-paced sequences. In his “Martial Arthouse” experiment, the director Jakob Lass lets two young women loose on Berlin. Vanilla, a shy young woman who is just starting work at a security firm, is shown the ropes by Tiger, a kick-boxing punk. What begins with Vanilla bravely learning to defend herself against unwanted male advances, and includes some nicely creative elements when we see how much she enjoys smashing things up, has just the sort of undesirable consequences one might expect: Vanilla becomes fascinated by violence. However, the same can also be said about the film. The celebration of female self-empowerment begins to feel stilted, and at times Lass loses his balance on what is admittedly a precarious tightrope walk. All the same, the director, who was celebrated in 2013 for Love Steaks and created a kind of rulebook for “German Mumblecore” under the ironic title Fogma, has by no means forgotten everything he learnt. As a clever critique of authoritarian structures and a well-considered study of the very real mechanisms of violence, his comic fantasy has a great deal to say.
 
A dark Berlin full of dangers is also depicted by Cate Shortland’s Berlin Syndrome in the Panorama section. For the young tourist Clare, who like the director is from Australia, a rash one-night stand becomes an ordeal lasting several months – Andi, a German who seemed so nice at first, imprisons her in his apartment. A ghastly relationship develops, as if they were a couple: she wants nothing but to escape, but he refuses to accept it, and calmly organizes a life for them together: “Do you like pesto?” While Clare battles against madness in the flat, Andi simply continues his normal everyday life as an English teacher and the well-behaved son of a professor. In 2012, Shortland – who until that point had been virtually unknown – presented Lore, one of the best cinematic character studies of the Nazi era; which makes this new insight into the German psyche all the more disturbing. However, Berlin Syndrome works better as a genre film which combines the precise psychology of kidnapping films such as Room (Lenny Abrahamson, 2015) with solid horror effects.