Tag Archives: Freud

Bingeworthy box sets

As people around the world self-isolate and heed orders to stay at home amid the devastating coronavirus pandemic, DQ offers a selection of series from around the world to enjoy.

Babylon Berlin
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Volker Bruch, Liv Lisa Fries, Peter Kurth, Matthias Brandt, Leonie Benesch, Severija Janušauskaitė, Ivan Shvedoff
Seasons: Three
This German noir has become a breakout hit for the country, immersing viewers in a visually intoxicating 1920s Berlin. Based on the crime novels by Volker Kitscher, it follows police inspector Gereon Rath, who is on a secret mission to expose an extortion ring, and Charlotte Ritter, a police clerk who aspires to be an inspector but at night is a flapper and occasional prostitute at the Mika Efti cabaret. The series is also lifted by the dramatic soundtrack, which features standout song Zu Asche, Zu Staub (To Ashes, To Dust), performed on the nightclub stage.

Badehotellet (Seaside Hotel)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: TV2
Starring: Amalie Dollerup, Lars Ranthe, Anne Louise Hassing, Merete Mærkedahl, Ulla Vejby, Jens Jacob Tychsen, Anette Støvelbæk, Birthe Neumann
Seasons: Seven
Downton Abbey by the seaside, this long-running Danish drama is one of the country’s most popular series, drawing audiences every year since 2013 to the trials and tribulations of the staff working a lavish hotel and the guests who visit them each summer from Copenhagen. Combining beautiful scenery with comedy drama and the clash of class and cultures that comes naturally from the upstairs/downstairs setting, it’s the perfect example of blue-sky Nordic drama.

Das Boot
From: Germany
Original broadcaster: Sky
Starring: Vicky Krieps, Tom Wlaschiha, August Wittgenstein, Lizzy Caplan, Rick Okon, Vincent Kartheiser
Seasons: Season two launches in Germany on April 24
Following a classic novel and iconic film is no easy feat, and critics were rightly sceptical that the ambition of this series could match what had come before. But from the first glimpse of a U-boat rising out of the Atlantic Ocean, this wartime drama serves up a compelling and technically stunning show. Set nine months after the Wolfgang Petersen film, the action opens in 1942, simultaneously following the crew of the claustrophobic U-612 and the Resistance in La Rochelle, France.

Delhi Crime
From: India
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Shefali Shah, Rasika Dugal, Aakash Dahiya, Adil Hussain, Rajesh Tailang
Seasons: One
While true crime dramas continue to dominate the broadcast and streaming schedules, buoyed by a similar wave of documentary series in the genre, this is one of the best. Based on the tragic true story of a 2012 gang rape in Delhi, the series follows the aftermath and the police investigation to find those responsible. Shah plays Vartika Chaturvedi, the deputy commissioner of police who drives the series forward and guides viewers through the sights and sounds of the city.

Fauda
From: Israel
Original broadcaster: Yes
Starring: Lior Raz, Itzik Cohen, Neta Garay, Rona-Lee Shim’on, Boaz Konforty, Doron Ben-David
Seasons: Three
Israel has become known as the home of some of the most original drama series in the world, leading to US remakes such as Homeland, Hostages, In Treatment and the upcoming Your Honor. Fauda might be the best of the bunch, drawing on the military experiences of creators Lior Raz (who also stars) and Avi Issacharoff. Set against the backdrop of the Israel-Palestine conflict, it follows the leader of an elite unit as they pursue a Hamas terrorist. Season three switches the action-packed story to the Gaza Strip.

Freud
From: Austria
Original broadcasters: ORF, Netflix
Starring: Robert Finster, Ella Rumpf, Georg Friedrich, Christoph F Krutzler
Seasons: One
Having recently launched in Austria, this dark, gothic period drama from director Marvin Kren (4 Blocks) is set in 1890s Vienna, famous for its decadence and the dark underbelly of high society. Mysterious murders and political intrigue clash as young psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud (Finster), who finds strong opposition against his theories, becomes embroiled in a murderous conspiracy alongside a policeman and a notorious medium.

Herrens Veje (Ride Upon the Storm)
From: Denmark
Original broadcaster: DR
Starring: Lars Mikkelsen, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen, Simon Sears, Morten Hee Andersen
Seasons: Two
From the creator of hit Danish political drama Borgen comes this drama about a family of priests and the characters within it, as each follows their own path to a meaningful life. On the face of it, they are the epitome of respectability, but events that leave the family in crisis soon unfold.

La Casa de Papel (Money Heist)
From: Spain
Original broadcasters: Antenna 3, Netflix
Starring: Alvaro Morte, Itziar Ituño, Alba Flores, Esther Acebo, Pedro Alonso
Seasons: Three, with a fourth released on Netflix on April 3
If any series characterises Spain’s assent to global drama powerhouse, it is this thrilling and action-packed story of a mysterious man known only as El Profesor (The Professor), who brings together a band of criminals to carry out the biggest heist ever imagined: taking over the The Royal Mint of Spain and taking home 2.4 billion euros. In season three, they are forced to reunite to execute a more ambitious plan, this time targeting the Bank of Spain.

Line of Duty
From: UK
Original broadcaster: BBC
Starring: Martin Compston, Vicky McClure, Adrian Dunbar
Seasons: Five
With filming on season six interrupted as productions around the world shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic, now is the chance to catch up creator Jed Mercurio’s nail-bitingly tense police thriller (also pictured top), which introduces the members of Anti-Corruption Unit 12, tasked with uncovering police wrongdoing. Each season features a host of guest stars, while a long-running conspiracy plays across the series. By the end, you’ll be asking, ‘Who is H?’

Mr Robot
From: US
Original broadcaster: USA Network
Starring: Rami Malek, Carl Chaikin, Portia Doubleday, Martin Wallström, Christian Slater
Seasons: Four
Turn off social media and be sure to pay attention to Mr Robot, a critically acclaimed psychological thriller that follows Elliot Anderson (Malek), a young man living in New York who works for cyber-security company Allsafe and whose struggles with social anxiety and depression mean he struggles with paranoia and delusion. Elliot’s hacking skills lead him to anarchist Mr Robot, who is planning to attack one of the biggest corporations in the world – and Allsafe’s biggest client.

Professor T
From: Belgium
Original broadcaster: Één
Starring: Koen De Bouw, Tanja Oostvogels, Goeie Derick, Carry Goossens, Herwig Ilegems
Seasons: Three
Belgium is certainly among the most ambitiously creative countries in the world when it comes to television drama, thanks in part to a financial system that demands fresh and original ideas. Set in Antwerp, this crime drama introduces the eponymous eccentric professor, who works alongside the police to solve crimes. What makes it stand out is the mixture of genres the series covers, from musical and comedy to tragedy and melodrama. The show has already been remade in France and Germany, and a UK version starring Ben Miller is now in the works for ITV.

Queen Sono
From: South Africa
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Pearl Thusi, Vuyo Dabula, Lois Maginga
Seasons: One
Recently launched on Netflix, this series marks the streamer’s first foray into original African scripted programming. Mixing thills, actions and character drama, it follows the titular character, a member of the Special Operations Group and daughter of an anti-apartheid leader, who tackles criminal operations while dealing with crises in her personal life.

Sex Education
From: UK
Original broadcaster: Netflix
Starring: Asa Butterfield, Gillian Anderson, Ncuti Gatwa, Emma Mackey, Connor Swindells, Kedar Williams-Stirling, Aimee Lou Wood, Tanya Reynolds, Patricia Allison
Seasons: Two
Ostensibly the story of a teenager who follows in his sex therapist mother’s footsteps by providing advice to his hormone-driven classmates, Sex Education matches an eclectic cast of characters with a visually vibrant take on the traditionally dour British school drama by blending the look of a US high school with a distinctly 80s vibe, all while mixing laugh-out-loud humour with discussions of serious subjects such as sexual assault, sexuality and sexually transmitted infections.

The Expanse
From: US
Original broadcaster: Syfy (now Amazon Prime Video)
Starring: Steven Strait, Cas Anvar, Dominique Tipper, Wes Chatham, Shohreh Aghdashloo, Frankie Adams
Seasons: Four, with a fifth already ordered
For a sci-fi drama that’s out of this world, look no further than The Expanse. Based on the books by James SA Corey, the show’s future was in doubt when it was cancelled by Syfy after three seasons, before Amazon stepped in to save the series and order two further seasons. It opens hundreds of years in the future in a colonised Solar System, when the case of a missing girl brings together a hardened police detective, an Earth-based politician and a rogue ship captain, leading them to expose the greatest conspiracy in human history.

The Mandalorian
From: US
Original broadcaster: Disney+
Starring: Pedro Pascal, Gina Carano, Carl Weathers, Werner Herzog, Nick Nolte, Emily Swallow, Taika Waititi, Giancarlo Esposito, Omid Abtahi
Seasons: One
Those lucky enough to be in the US, Canada or the Netherlands may have already check out this Star Wars series, the flagship original drama on the new Disney+ streaming platform. But as the service reaches most of Europe tomorrow, millions of subscribers will no doubt be eagerly awaiting the opportunity to see this acclaimed show, which is set after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order, as seen in the most recent trilogy of Star Wars films. It’s here we meet a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.

The Marvellous Mrs Maisel
From: US
Original broadcaster: Amazon Prime Video
Starring: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Michael Zegen, Marin Hinkle, Tony Shalhoub
Seasons: Three, with a fourth on the way
A comedy-drama that has plenty of both, The Marvellous Mrs Maisel sees Rachel Brosnahah turn in an Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning performance as the titular character, a housewife in 1950s New York who discovers a knack for stand-up after an impromptu set at a comedy club.

This Is Us
From: US
Original broadcaster: NBC
Starring: Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore, Sterling K Brown, Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley
Seasons: Four
For heartwarming comedy and emotional family drama, this smash hit US drama ticks all the boxes. It follows the members of the Pearson family – mum Rebecca, dad Jack and siblings Kevin, Kate and Randall – mostly in the present day but flashing back to the past and into the future, focusing on their individual relationships and how their lives and experiences have been experienced by their childhood. Last year, following its third season, the show received the rare honour of being renewed for an additional three seasons.

Top Boy
From: UK
Original broadcasters: Channel 4, Netflix
Starring: Ashley Walters, Kane Robinson, Shane Romulus, Malcolm Kamulete, Sharon Duncan Brewster
Seasons: Three
British crime drama Top Boy first aired in 2011, with a second season running in 2013 on Channel 4. But thanks to the support of rapper Drake, Netflix revived the series this year. Set in East London, it introduces a group of friends and gang members fighting for survival on fictional crime-riddled estate Summerhouse. The series has been praised for its tough characters and its realistic portray of the world the story is set in.

Watchmen
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Regina King, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Tim Mison, Sara Vickers, Jeremy Irons, Andrew Howard, Louis Gossett Jr
Seasons: One
This might be described as a superhero drama, but it can’t be compared to anything produced by Marvel (The Avengers) or DC (Batman) in recent years. From Lost creator Damon Lindelof and described as a “remix” of the iconic graphic novel created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, this alternate-history series takes place 34 years after the original story and follows a detective (Regina King) as she investigates a murder, in a world where police officers are forced to conceal their identities in an ongoing battle against a white-supremacist group. King’s standout performance and stunning filmmaking ally with topical themes and a powerful soundtrack created by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross from Nine Inch Nails.

Westworld
From: US
Original broadcaster: HBO
Starring: Evan Rachel Wood, Thandie Newton, Ed Harris, Jeffrey Wright, Tessa Thompson, Aaron Paul, Vincent Cassel, Lena Waithe
Seasons: Season three is now airing
As visually striking and imaginative as ever, this science-fiction series continues to be one of the most ambitious and complex stories on television. Based on Michael Crichton’s 1973 film, it introduces the eponymous Wild West-themed resort where guests can entertain their wildest – and often most villainous – fantasies alongside the android ‘hosts’ that populate the park. Naturally, things don’t go as expected when some hosts begin to gain sentience and search for a way to leave the park and join the real world.

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Once upon a time in Vienna

Delve into the mind of Sigmund Freud as Austria’s ORF and Netflix partner for an eight-part series that sees the young doctor test out his unconventional theories while solving a murder conspiracy in 1890s Vienna.

Upon hearing the name Sigmund Freud, one might imagine a man with round, black-rimmed glasses and a neat, white beard, perhaps puffing on a cigar or sitting behind a desk, making notes while listening to a patient. For more than a century, the esteemed academic and neurologist, who founded the practice of psychoanalysis, has long influenced the medical world – and psychology and psychiatry in particular – with his theories on the unconscious, dreams, sexual behaviour and ego.

Now, 80 years after the doctor’s death, television viewers are to be given an insight into his early life in Freud, a thriller set against the backdrop of extravagant 1890s Vienna, famous for its decadence and the dark underbelly of its high society.

It’s a city where mysterious murders and political intrigue clash as the young psychoanalyst, played by Robert Finster, finds his revolutionary theories are met with strong opposition from his colleagues and wider Austrian society. But when he meets war veteran and policeman Alfred Kiss (Georg Freidrich) and notorious medium Fleur Salomé (Ella Rumpf), Freud unwittingly becomes part of an investigation into a murderous conspiracy.

The German-language series, coproduced by Austria’s ORF and global streamer Netflix, comes from writers Marvin Kren, who also directs, Benjamin Hessler and Stefan Brunner, all of whom were intrigued by the idea of placing a young Freud at the centre of a crime thriller.

“There’s this mysterious thing about Freud,” says Kren, who previously worked with Hessler on German gangster drama 4 Blocks. “I’m from Vienna; I was raised here and there’s no other city in Europe where Freud could have had his career because Vienna has a very strange culture and he’s a strange person.

Freud co-writer and director Marvin Kren (seated) with actors Robert Finster, Ella Rumpf and Georg Friedrich

“Viennese people are full of contrasts. They are funny and evil at the same time, and I think this is what kept Freud going in the search of the human soul, because of the Viennese soul. I was very interested to dig deep into Vienna at the end of the 19th century, to catch the atmosphere of this time.”

Acknowledging that Freud has now become something of a parody of himself – often being the subject of satirical cartoons or the source of sexual jokes – Hessler says the writers wanted to approach the psychoanalyst from a fresh perspective, presenting him as a hugely ambitious, revolutionary thinker at the start of his career.

“He was intensely conscious of himself, of the image he wanted to present to the world after [his death],” he says. “Even as a young man, he would imagine the house he was born in receiving a plaque saying ‘Freud was born here.’ He wanted to become a legend and he was very convinced he would. That’s an interesting character – but what was that character like before he achieved his goal?”

That Freud was hugely controlling over his image and perception might have proven to be a stumbling block to the writing team, as he destroyed all his work, letters and papers from the period on which the series focuses. But, in fact, this gave them some welcome creative freedom. So what was the young Freud actually like?

“Full of coke! He’s full of coke and not a person you want to trust,” says Kren. “He’s restless, he’s nervous, he’s full of instinct. He does everything to reach his goals but not because he is an egocentric person. He needs a position in Vienna because he doesn’t have a rich family behind him. That’s the person we start with – someone who fights for his ideas because he believes in them. And he needs people to believe in them to get recognition and money.”

Finster stars as a young Sigmund Freud

Freud is just one part of the show, however. Other key figures include Fleur Salomé, a necromancer and medium who enjoys the fineries of Viennese high society. She brings to the series a discussion of the occult and how it might blend or clash with Freud’s ideas about the subconscious. Then there’s the crime story and the introduction of Kiss, who discovers various murders around the city.

A less imaginitive show might use the premise of a tired and weary police officer, struggling to crack the case, reluctantly turning to an unlikely figure and their controversial methods to solve the killings. But the Freud writers were keen to avoid this “pedestrian” scenario.

“In that case, the revolutionary aspect would lie in the character of Kiss, who would be progressive enough to ask this crazy doctor, who talks about the subconscious, for help. That’s not what we wanted to do,” Hessler explains. “In our series, Freud sees an opportunity to achieve fame and recognition. He uses the situation more than Kiss tries to use him to solve the cases, and then a whole other dynamic takes over and it turns into something very different.”

Early footage of the series – produced by Satel Film and Bavaria Fiction and distributed by ZDF Enterprises – suggests a haunting, horror-tinged quality to the drama, which the writers say blends a historic backdrop with very modern storytelling, music and camera movements. “The whole world has their clichéd images of our city and we take all those images and do a crazy horror show with it,” Kren says. “We’ve made a new cocktail.”

Central to the look of the show has been production designer Verena Wagner (Willkommen Österreich), who was able to make use of far more material detailing Vienna in the 1890s than the writers could to uncover Freud’s life in the same period.

Set designer Verena Wagner (right) with production designer assistant Attila Plangger

“We found books that say Vienna was a very dark, rotten and dirty city and that brown was a very prominent colour – even houses were painted brown or dark grey,” she explains. “It must have been a completely different Vienna from the one we know now.”

Filming mostly took place in Prague, which doubled for Vienna, with the production team using the gothic Czech city’s castles and chateaus. Interiors, which were often exquisitely decorated, were built on sound stages, such as those for Freud’s flat and some of the larger Viennese homes.

“The time for sound stage usage was limited so we had to come up with ways for multiple uses of our sets,” Wagner says. “So Marvin and I talked about how people who lived in Vienna wanted to be individual but there was also a desire to be fashionable. They tried to be in with the crowd. So we took the first flat and just changed it a little bit each time for the others. We started with Freud’s flat, so there’s something of his home in every other flat. But if you watch the show, you will not recognise it. It’s in your subconscious!”

To write the series, Kren, Hessler and Brunner held several sessions together before splitting up to pen their individual episodes. Director Kren then left the writing group to begin pre-production.

“To call [having the director in the writers room] helpful would be underselling it,” Hessler says of Kren’s dual role. “The whole process relies on that. When we make up stuff together, I don’t think of Marvin as the director and potential enemy of the writer. He’s just my creative partner. Of course, his expertise and his knowledge of what is possible and what he wants to do is massively helpful and really guides the process.”

Freidrich as policeman Alfred Kiss

Kren also took the lead in discussions with ORF and Netflix, leaving the writers to be able to shape the series without interference. “Marvin is such a great creative partner because he knows my neurotic and sensitive writer’s soul and knows what to shield me from in the discussions he has and the limitations he’s fighting against,” Hessler adds.

While clashes between a public broadcaster in ORF and a global streaming platform such as Netflix might seem inevitable, Kren says both were extremely relaxed about the series, affording him “absolute creative freedom.” ORF’s intention to air Freud in primetime when it launches in Austria in the spring meant there were some discussions about the amount of sex and violence featured, and this will be reflected in slightly different edits for each. Netflix will then follow with its own worldwide roll-out.

As a director, Kren took some inspiration from his work on 4 Blocks, the German drama about a Lebanese crime family operating in Berlin that first aired on TNT Serie in 2017, taking an approach that allows him to work freely with the camera and the actors in a 360-degree setting.

“I don’t want to worry too much about lighting,” he jokes. “I just need the actors’ energy. I work with them for two months [before filming] with our acting coach, Giles Foreman, who has worked on five of my movies. He’s a big influence for me and my creative work and, with him, we develop all the important scenes and really dig deep into the heart of the characters and find combinations. We try to make ‘art explosions’ on the set.”

Kren also likes to work with new actors, something he has continued with Freud’s relatively unknown star Finster (My Brother’s Keeper). The director says Finster has brought a “certain dynamic” to the series, skilfully portraying both the light and dark shades of Freud’s complex personality. “It’s spectacular to watch,” he adds. “I’m very interested to see how people will react to him. He does a magnificent job.”

Ella Rumpf plays medium Fleur Salomé

The eight-episode series was shot across 86 days, with production wrapping in June. Wagner says her job was made trickier by the language barrier she faced in the Czech Republic, though the toughest moment came on the final day of shooting, when torrential rain twice postponed filming.

“You could not do anything. We were really dependent on the weather and it was raining cats and dogs,” she says. “We were filming in a canal and the water was rising. You can’t do anything about it and you feel helpless. The rest of the time, the preparation was wild and we had a tough schedule, but it was all really good. When it ended, I was really sad. Everything was great and you forget the bad things very quickly.”

In the writers room, the biggest challenges came at the start of development, when the trio considered how to bring explanations of Freud’s scientific theories into the drama as seamlessly as possible, without either leaving the audience confused or filling the script with clunky paragraphs of exposition.

“The subconscious, the id and the superego are ideas most people are thinly aware of, but many people aren’t aware of them at all,” Hessler says.

“What had to be achieved in the first episode was to explain that to the audience and have them understand what Freud’s theory is and what about it was so groundbreaking at the time. You can have him explain it in Freudian terms, which is very difficult to follow and quite boring and dry. In the end, I found a metaphorical way for him to explain it, so I was very happy.

“Another thing that turned out to be very complicated was Freud’s family structure, which was incredibly strange. He was married to his own sister-in-law – his wife’s brother was married to Freud’s sister – which isn’t something you see everyday and was quite difficult to reveal to the audience without it being explanatory.”

Kren in discussion with Finster and DOP Markus Nestroy

However, it is those complicated family dynamics that ground the series away from the central crime stories. “The show is very tense and there are a lot of dark, creepy moments. When he’s together with his family, you can breathe a little,” Kren notes.

Freud and his theories are no strangers to television drama. Other historical crime series, such as US series The Alienist and British-made Vienna Blood, have similarly explored the use of his theories to profile and track criminals, while Poirot’s David Suchet portrayed the psychoanalyst in a 1984 six-part BBC biopic.

However, ORF and Netflix’s show is the first to imagine how a revolutionary young Freud might have been received when he first began to pitch his new ideas and how 1890s Vienna might have reacted to him.

It also stands out because, as Kren concludes, “it’s made by Austrians. We Austrians breathe Freud from the first moments we walk on the Viennese streets. It’s here; it’s in our genes.”

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Berlin calling

With television now well and truly matching the star power of the movie business, DQ runs the rule over the TV series getting red-carpet premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival, which kicks off today.  

As the Berlin International Film Festival, aka the Berlinale, begins today, the red carpet will be rolled out for screen stars from all over the world. But it’s not just the movies that will be celebrated over the next 11 days.

For the past few years, television has played an increasingly important and visible part of the annual event, which is celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2020. This year will be no different, with eight series – from Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the UK and the US – enjoying world or international premieres.

The Berlinale Series strand will introduce shows that feature representations of various communities, sexual identities and new perspectives on the world today, while the selection also plays vividly with ideas of television style, structure and tone.

Dispatches from Elsewhere comes from How I Met Your Mother star Jason Segel

First up will be Dispatches from Elsewhere, the AMC series starring Jason Segel, Eve Lindley, Sally Field, André Benjamin and Richard E Grant. Creator Segel (How I Met Your Mother, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) also co-directs the series, in which an enigmatic institute promises a chosen few an escape from everyday life into a world full of beauty and magic. But is this a game, an alternative reality or a conspiracy? And what are those taking part risking?

Dark Austrian drama Freud, meanwhile, transports viewers to 1886 Vienna, where a young Sigmund Freud (Robert Finster) – restless, high on cocaine and striving for recognition – embarks on a nerve-wracking, hypnotic trip into the depths of the human soul with a mysterious medium and a traumatised policeman. Directed by Marvin Kren (4 Blocks) for Austria’s ORF and Netflix, the show’s cast also includes Ella Rumpf, Georg Friedrich, Christoph Krutzler, Brigitte Kren, Anja Kling, Philipp Hochmair and Noah Saavedra.

Canada’s C’est comme ça que je t’aime (Happily Married) is set in 1970s Quebec

From Canada is C’est comme ça que je t’aime (Happily Married), which is set in Quebec in 1974. The drama tells the story of two couples who send their kids off to camp for three weeks. With their children away, things quickly turn uncomfortable for the couples and cracks start to appear in the facades of their relationships. The series was created by François Létourneau, who also stars alongside Patrice Robitaille, Marilyn Castonguay, Karine Gonthier-Hyndman and Sophie Desmarais. Joanne Forgues is the showrunner on the programme, which  was commissioned by Radio-Canada Télé and Tou.Tv Extra.

British entry Trigonometry focuses on a couple who take in a lodger. The trio fall in love together and start up a three-way relationship – but can it possibly work out? The BBC and HBO Max series was created by Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods, with Thalissa Teixeira, Gary Carr and Ariane Labed playing the central trio. Athina Rachel Tsangari and Stella Corradi are the directors.

Also due to premiere at Berlinale is the second season of Australian drama Mystery Road, which has added The Bridge star Sofia Helin to its cast. The ABC series, created by Ivan Sen, opens when a headless corpse is found floating by the shore of a remote outback town. As if this weren’t mysterious enough, Detective Swan and his colleague Fran have to contend with protests against the excavation of an Indigenous site. And then another body turns up. Aaron Pedersen returns as Detective Swan, alongside actors Jada Alberts and Callan Mulvey. The directors are Warwick Thornton and Wayne Blair.

British drama Trigonometry centres on a three-way relationship

Shortform drama Sex, from Denmark’s TV2, comprises six episodes with a total running time of 77 minutes and will be screened in its entirety at the festival. Created by Clara Mendes and directed by Amalie Næesby Fick, the show follows Catherine, a call-centre worker giving advice on sex and love but at a loss herself. After a kiss, she wants more from her colleague Selma. Her boyfriend Simon feels that what’s little is actually plenty. But what if that’s not enough? The cast includes Asta Kamma August, Jonathan Bergholdt Jørgensen, Nina Terese Rask and Sara Fanta Traore.

Stateless, another drama from ABC Australia, boasts an all-star cast led by Yvonne Strahovski (The Handmaid’s Tale), Jai Courtney, Asher Keddie, Fayssal Bazzi, Dominic West and Cate Blanchett, who co-creates and executive produces the six-part series. Directed by Emma Freeman and Jocelyn Moorhouse, it tells the story of four strangers whose lives collide at an immigration detention centre in the middle of the Australian desert. Elise McCredie and Tony Ayres co-created the series alongside Blanchett.

Yvonne Strahovski in Stateless

The final premiere will be Netflix’s upcoming musical drama The Eddy (pictured top), created by Jack Thorne (His Dark Materials) and Damien Chazelle, the Oscar-winning director of La La Land, who is also the lead director on the series. Bandleader Elliot is improvising his way through a complex score of problems: his Parisian jazz club The Eddy isn’t doing too well, while ruthless debt collectors are breathing down his neck – and then his teenage daughter Julie arrives from New York. The cast features André Holland, Joanna Kulig, Amandla Stenberg, Tahar Rahim, Leila Bekhti, Adil Dehbi and Benjamin Biolay.

Themes of macabre humour, female sexuality and an interconnected world will be on display through the eight shows, while the increasing trend for actors to be more deeply involved in series creation and development – notably Blanchett (Stateless) and Segel (Dispatches from Elsewhere) – is also apparent.

At a time when the distinction between movies and television is increasingly blurred, the focus Berlinale places on series marks it out from other film festivals around the world, though other events are now also pushing the small screen into the spotlight.

Meanwhile, numerous other screenings will also take place at the city’s Zoo Palast, with shows including Ukraine’s Hide & Seek,  Czech drama The Sleepers, Brazilian series Where My Heart Is, UK/New Zealand coproduction The Luminaries and Australia’s Total Control among them.

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Around the block

Mobsters rule a corner of Berlin in German drama 4 Blocks, which has been renewed for a second season before its debut. DQ chats to the team behind the six-part series.

When it comes to mobsters on the small screen, series such as The Sopranos and Gomorrah can claim to rule the roost. But the gangs that run New Jersey and Naples respectively could be pushed off the map by the clan at the centre of a new German drama set on the streets of Berlin.

4 Blocks, which debuts on May 8 on German pay TV network TNT Series, revolves around Ali ‘Toni’ Hamady (Kida Kodr Ramadan), who has made a promise to his wife Kalila to leave behind his life of crime.

4 Blocks is set within the Arab ‘mafia’ in Berlin

But when his brother-in-law gets arrested in a police sting, Toni feels obliged to step up as leader of the clan once again and prevent his hot-headed brother Abbas (German rapper Veysel) from becoming head of the family.

Set across six episodes, 4 Blocks tells a story about friendship and family, betrayal and trust, all within an Arab mob living in the central Berlin district of Neukölln.

It is produced by Oscar-winning studio Wiedemann & Berg Television, with executive producers Quirin Berg, Max Wiedemann, Eva Stadler, Karsten Rühle, Anke Greifeneder and Hannes Heyelmann. The writers are Hanno Hackfort, Bob Konrad and Richard Kropf, with Marvin Kren directing.

4 Blocks was originally conceived as a series told from the point of view of the police, but executives from TNT Serie owner Turner felt that premise was too straightforward and formulaic. Instead, they wanted to tell the story from the perspective of the Arab family.

The inspiration for the series came from an article Berg had read that said there were areas in Neukölln into which police officers would not venture alone.

“I really liked the set-up and the clans. I’ve lived in Berlin for a few years so I knew what was going on,” recalls Greifeneder, Turner’s director of original productions. “Then I said I’d like it to be a bit more radical and change the perspective by going into the clan and telling it from their perspective.

“It’s a parallel universe within society, and that’s what’s interesting. Quirin was really happy about it; they don’t very often hear suggestions to make it more radical – and that’s how the whole project started.”

Berg picks up: “There is some kind of news from Neukölln every week, every month, so it’s really something that is vibrant and has a certain momentum. The fact the police wouldn’t really go there was remarkable because it was far away from my perception of Germany as a safe place and a safe country.

4 Blocks aims to look beyond criminal gang members and into their families and personal lives

“We always wanted to tell the story from both sides, not just the police side, but there was more of that in the original concept. We really embraced Anke’s input, saying ‘Let’s be more radical.’ That’s what it’s all about.”

Because of the realities of life in Neukölln, the production team sought a story that had a balance between reality and fiction – a process that involved speaking to lots of people who actually live and work in the district.

“We spoke to officials, policemen, attorneys, lawyers and people living there,” Berg says. “It was all about treating people with respect and not judging them. We tried to really get a survey on what’s beneath the surface. For us it was not about the typical clichés of gangster life. It was more about the question of who are the people behind it, their family and their relationships.”

That’s why 4 Blocks is not just about action and organised crime, and uses the legacy of shows such as The Sopranos and Gomorrah by exploring the dynamics and relationships within the gang and what leads them to make the decisions that they make during the course of the series.

“It has some very emotional elements to it as well,” adds Hannes Heyelmann, Turner’s senior VP and managing director, central and eastern Europe and international original programming strategy. “That’s one of the big advantages when you tell the story from the inside versus the police angle. We’ve managed to show different perspectives and we’re not just fulfilling the stereotypes. This is what people on the street realised as well. When we hired some of the cast from the area and brought in lots of extras, word spread that this was not about shaping a certain image.”

Behind the scenes during production of 4 Blocks

Leading the project from a creative standpoint was director Kren, whose credits include crime drama Tatort. He has also been hired to helm forthcoming crime drama Freud, about the young psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud in 1886 Vienna.

“I immediately latched on to that idea [of dramatising life inside the clan] and felt that it was really interesting,” he says. “For me as an Austrian, to try and get a foothold in this world was very difficult, and thanks to Kida, who is from a Kurd-Arab background and knows quite a few people in the area, that was a door-opener, definitely.

“We’re trying to look at family and in this case it’s a Lebanese-Kurdish family. We know they exist in Germany. It’s very authentic and we can be very confident in our approach. Then of course there is this backdrop of Neukölln. The interesting thing is if you go to France, nobody knows there is a mafia in Germany, that there are mafia-like structures and mobsters in Germany. I talked to somebody and mentioned this, and they had no idea this existed. So it’s interesting to tell a story about Germany that is not too familiar outside of Germany either.”

Berg has previously worked with Kren and describes the director as “extremely passionate” about his work, noting that he spent many days and nights in Neukölln speaking to people there. “He’s one of the best directors we have [in Germany] right now,” he says. “We developed a large part of the series with Turner and our writers. Then we brought Marvin in and he changed the game in a very good way. He spent a lot of time with people that really contributed by telling him stories and sharing their lives with him. He soaked in this authenticity and found a way to put it in our project. It’s his style, his handwriting and the whole tone of the series is what he managed to put together in a great way.”

“He also brought the writers in; they had their office there for a couple of months,” reveals Greifeneder. “You’re always better when you know what you’re writing about and that’s something you could really feel. It’s something that’s not typically German. It’s a really unique look.”

For leading actor Ramadan, 4 Blocks was something of a homecoming, as until recently he had lived in Neukölln for 37 years.

“The danger of making a contemporary series about a criminal foreigner is that you shore up stereotypes and clichés, or that you actually stoke the flames of the whole [immigration] debate,” he says of the series. “But, of course, on the other hand there are criminal clans [in real life] and we’re trying to give them a face so you can look at it in a different way and understand why the situation came about. If you touch something that’s a hot topic, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re stoking the flames.”

Actor Kida Kodr Ramadan (left) has lived in the Neukölln area of Berlin most of his life

The location of the series, in the south-east of Berlin, also provides a distinctive look that will be unrecognisable even to those familiar with the streets of Germany’s capital.

“Berlin is a little bit like New York – it’s shot so many times you’ve seen all these places so many times,” Greifeneder admits. “But now I’ve seen Berlin in a new way. At the beginning, you almost feel like you’re in Istanbul, but then you realise it’s Berlin. Even the typical things you know, he made it so you see it with new eyes, and that’s really difficult.”

Berg says the production used a lot of original locations, which sometimes meant going into places where the crew might not have been entirely welcome: “We made sure we were talking to the right people and that they knew we respected them,” he notes. “They loved our work as filmmakers in general so they respected us. The funny thing was, after we wrapped principal photography, a policeman came up to us and said while we were shooting the whole area was really quiet and, one day after we stopped, it all went crazy again. It’s true – it could have gone so bad and it didn’t. We didn’t have any incidents or any problems at all.”

The third original series to air on TNT Serie, after comedy Add a Friend and mystery thriller Weinberg, 4 Blocks has already been renewed for a second season. Production is due to begin later this year and the season will air in 2018.

“When we look at a concept, we try not to play it safe but take risks,” Greifeneder says of Turner’s original drama strategy in Germany. “4 Blocks is not typically German but it’s also easier for us [to commission a show like that] because we don’t have ratings pressure. We’re pay TV, so we have another business model. Saying that, we still want to reach for both. We want to have something critically acclaimed and that also has fans.”

Berg adds: “We’re not trying to please the audience, we’re trying to follow a vision we believe in. Most of the time, I find that if you have a strong creative vision you don’t try to make everybody happy and you end up having something that is stronger at the end and will attract more people. That’s one of the strengths pay TV has to offer and we’re taking full advantage of that.”

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