Sunday, October 21, 2012

Up in flames

"Line 32", IDTV Drama,
NCRV, KRO, Netherland 2
A car crashes into a bus full of passengers, the bus overturns and explodes, right in front of a courthouse in which an extreme right-wing politician is about to testify in a controversial case of abuse. An act of terrorism?

"Line 32" (IDTV Drama, NCRV/KRO, Netherland 2) is a thrilling six week journey back in time, untangling the fates of the victims. The amazingly acted eight-part series is set against rising racism in the Netherlands and elsewhere, meant to tell the manifold stories beyond political slogans and newspaper headlines.

The driest place on earth

"Extreme Places With Björnulf",
Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company
Björnulf is a hot-tempered and devoted TV presenter. His project: a series called "Extreme Places". Together with the young photographer Thomas he goes on a journey taking them to the Chilean deserts, possibly the driest place on earth. There things start becoming difficult. Björnulf seems to lose his interest, starts drinking heavily and leaves the work to his friend. So Thomas sets out to explore how the few locals manage to survive in this hostile area.

The abrupt switching between genres and perspectives is irritating and fascinating at the same time. "Extreme Places With Björnulf" (Swedish Educational Broadcasting Company) pretends to be half road movie, half documentary. The series is original and funny, a light-hearted and fast-paced narrative about passion, friendship and about the brinks of human existence.

Merry old London

"Call the Midwife", BBC
London, 1957. Jenny Lee is a nurse and works alongside the nuns of the Order of St. Raymond Nonnatus. Yet the small private East End hospital she believed to work for turns out to be a convent. At first there is a huge cultural shock, but step by step Jenny Lee accepts the poor conditions her fellow sisters live an, but step by step her reserve turns into respect, friendship and love.

Merry old England: "Call the Midwife" (BBC) is warm, bright, light-footed and well-acted, though maybe a bit glossy, a six-part series giving an insight into life in post-war London and the devotion of women dedicating herselves to new-born lives and to charity. (And, of course, to learning to ride a bicycle.)

Note to self

My own TV set has been unemployed for years. I should change that. Seriously.

Between hope and humiliation

"Und alle haben geschwiegen",
Aspekt Telefilm-Produktion Berlin GmbH, ZDF
1964. Like 800.000 children in post-war Germany, Luisa Keller, a 16-years old illegitimate child, is committed to a religious community home. Being reduced to a mere number ("84") she spends traumatic years there which she is to speak about, more than 40 years later, in front of a German Bundestag committee. After a whole life spent in the U.S. Luisa has returned to Germany, not only to unveil the shadows of the past but also to meet Paul again, her childhood sweetheart, an orphan in the same home as well.

"And Everyone Was Silent" ("Und alle haben geschwiegen", Aspekt Telefilm-Produktion Berlin, ZDF) may lack subtlety, but it is a grasping, nightmarish story about heartless authorities, about mental and physic abuse, about humanity and love in spite of humiliation and despotism. "Und alle haben geschwiegen" is shocking, brillantly acted and photographed, leaving the audience speechless and disturbed.

The last things in life

"Clara s'en va mourir", BFC Productions/Arte France
Clara Lilt iis a 43-year old actress on the top of her carreer. And then the evil strikes out at her - lung cancer. She learns that she has two more months to live. It is a short and narrow path she knows well: Her father has died of the same disease before. She decides to put an end to her life out of her own free will.

A plot that might easily tip over and become whiningly melodramatic. It doesn't. Clara's life on stage, as a mother, daughter and sister closely intertwine, and "Clara's Off to Die" ("Clara s'en va mourir", BFC Production/Arte France) is kind of a chamber drama about the last things in life. Even though the plot remains quite linear, the film is straightforward and powerful, yet somewhat distant, maybe overacted and strangely aphoristic, occasionally even shrill and hasty.

Time machine

Haus des Rundfunks, paternoster elevator
Same procedure as every year: As soon as I enter the Haus des Rundfunks I peek around the corner in order to see if it's still there: that fascinating old-fashioned elevator called "paternoster". It must be one of the last of his kind (and unfortunately it is out of order at the moment), but if you can you should not miss using it. It will not only carry you to another floor but through the centuries.

Day one: TV fiction

"Business before pleasure" is a German saying. I am neither puritan nor German, so I freely decide to skip the nasty part and go to the movies instead. Day one: TV fiction.