Edinburgh Cinema

Edinburgh’s cinemas have their own, different feel. When I visit them, I’ll be writing about both the film and the place, giving you the organic experience. Film critics on the big scale can’t really cater for this, so I hope my reviews bring something extra in this respect.

Berlin Syndrome

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Berlin Syndrome 13.06.17

A disturbing descent into a loner's existence, Berlin Syndrome is the film that all single people should avoid. Its premise is simple: an Australian backpacker arrives in Berlin and has a chance encounter with a handsome guy who shows her around. She goes back to his place. Later, it's more difficult to leave his apartment than she'd anticipated.

The act of sex is the film's first casualty. When the two central characters come together, their love making is less romantic than laced with tension; the girl eyes him with a suggested terror, even as she submits to his desire. A novice to unlawful carnal knowledge would watch this scene and wonder at their motives for engagement. Later in bed together, the two express their regret at the end of this encounter, but it's the least convincing moment in the film. She watches him with a glazed, distant stare. He watches her with intensity but no affection.

The film continues, ever more sinister and worrying for the girl. I felt less affected by the girl's obvious horror at her predicament than with the guy. 'You could do anything,' she says pleadingly, as if there's more to life than trapping a young woman like some kind of insect. 'But I want to do this,' he replies with a simple curtness. His actions and mindset are what troubled me: anyone entering their forties while living alone will wonder how much of themselves is in this character. In his meetings with his father, we see a father's concern. Why does his son only date foreign tourists? Why won't he have anything to do with his estranged mother? And after work, why won't he join his colleagues for a drink? How, in fact, did he end up this way?

Like so many perverted psychopaths, or more poetically if you prefer, like Bluebeard, he has a room that he locks, with his captive guest forbidden from entering. Later she penetrates his dark secret, though there isn't much to respond to; there is no big reveal, only a sad revelation. The man is lonely, perhaps swept into a vicious circle of loneliness, or perhaps it was childhood and the mentioned parental breakdown. What is believable is the apartment, surrounded by many empty others, in an urban no-man's land for someone who can't connect with the people around him. Perhaps he sought this place out, like Tolkien's Gollum under the mountain. But perhaps too this place has made him, the loneliness and the growing disconnect with the desired opposite sex, as he enacts his own twisted imagining of romance, one he can control and not be hurt by.

It's a film that's well paced, with hypnotic photography and chilling performances from both lead actors. I recommend it, with the caveat that I found it soul-destroying in its portrayal of a lonely singleton's life gone badly wrong.

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