The 2015 Berlinale – one of the world’s top international film festivals – closes today in Berlin. As ever, a host of wonderful films have been shown during the packed ten-day programme, with the Iranian film Taxi, directed by dissident filmmaker Jafar Panahi, awarded the coveted Golden Bear.
While reading coverage of the festival, I was interested to see that some international TV dramas were premiered as part of the programme, and that a number of these had a pronounced crime/thriller/spying dimension. Alessandra Stanley’s excellent article in the New York Times provides a good overview, and also discusses how such series are beginning to be picked up in the States (and not always to be remade in English either), which is a very good sign.
Here are a few of the series in question:
Deutschland 83. There’s quite a lot of buzz about this spying drama in Germany and beyond, and it has now also been picked up by an American network (in the original German!). The central protagonist is East German border guard Martin Rauch, who is sent across the border as an undercover agent by the Stasi (the East German secret police); his task is to pose as an aid to a West German general working with NATO. Stanley describes the series as ‘an ingenious, counter-intuitive look at the Cold War’ and a recent Guardian article sees it as indicative of rising interest in the divided Germany of 1949 to 1990.
Shkufim (False Flag). According to Stanley, this Israeli political drama was inspired by the assassination of a Hamas leader in Dubai in 2010. That scenario has been reworked for the series, which shows five Israeli citizens waking up one day to find they are prime suspects in the kidnapping of a Iranian official in Moscow. The drama is produced by Tender Productions, which also has links with Homeland (which was itself based on the Israeli series Hatufim).
Follow the Money is a Danish crime thriller series by DR Drama (the makers of The Killing and Borgen) due to air later this year. It focuses on corruption in big business, with a lovely twist: the business in question is a wind-power company called Energreen, with supposedly impeccable ecological and moral credentials. Insider dealings and dodgy deaths indicate that all is not as it should be.
1992 is an Italian drama that was picked up in Berlin by the UK, according to Stanley (though no specific channel is named). This time, the corruption of political life by big business is the focus: the drama explores the Italian bribery scandals of the 1990s, and the attempts of Milan magistrate Antonio Di Pietro to clean up politics through Operation Clean Hands (Mani Pulite).
Last but not least, Blå ögon (Blue Eyes) is a Swedish-German crime series that explores racism, discrimination and immigration issues. Stanley describes it as having an anti-racist message, but also wanting to ‘upend expectations’ by giving characters on all sides of the debate a voice. One of the murder victims is a female, right-wing politician, who is assassinated while out in public.
Stanley ends her piece by noting that none of these series feature the disappearance or death of a child, as seen in earlier crime series such as The Killing and Broadchurch. Or to put this another way: these dramas are moving from highly personal cases whose investigations focus on the family and small communities, to cases that address larger historical, political and social issues. Interesting times. As ever, I’m hoping that a good number will make it on to our UK and US screens.