Walter Presents: Deutschland ’83

Since the beginning of this year, Channel 4 have started airing programmes selected by a film buff called Walter (click the link to find out more about him). These programmes are all foreign dramas, ranging from a supposedly innocent woman being Locked Up in a private prison in Spain; a group of Outlaws; and a group of people forming a Resistance in Nazi Germany.

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So far, I have watched three of the many dramas Walter has selected for Channel 4, and since they have all proved better than much of what is on British and American television, I have decided I’m going to try and watch every series he presents. Therefore, over the course of the next few months/year/however long it takes me to get over my procrastination, I’ll be writing short posts on each show I’m watching — most likely after I have finished the series.

A bit of background: I have always loved foreign cinema, be it Spanish fairytales like Pan’s Labyrinth or Italian Neo-Realists like Bicycle Thieves, but I’ve never really watched or had an interest for foreign dramas. My first introduction to the world was probably through the Nordic-Noir adaptation of The Missing by the BBC, until one night I saw a trailer for Walter Presents and was introduced to a new world of television. The first introduction to this world was through Deutschland ’83, which has one of my favourite opening titles sequence ever, and I would say this is the best way to ‘get into’ the free foreign dramas Walter has picked on All 4, mainly due to the quality of the show. 

The German thriller set in 1983 presents a divided Germany through the political and social iconography of the Berlin Wall. Audiences see this divided Germany through the eyes of Jonas Nay’s character Martin, a young officer who wants to serve his country.  As the show progresses, we see that it is not simply Germany that is divided between the East and the West, but the characters too. Nay is divided between doing what he believes is right versus what others believe is right; his girlfriend back at the East is divided between two sets of important secrets; his mother by her health and honesty; along with Nay’s roommate, Alex Edel (played by Ludwig Trepte) divided between what his father wants him to be against who he really is.

In fact, there is not one moment in the show where the Berlin wall is shown on camera as a major plot point or a character in itself (considering the effects the wall had, it certainly would have been very easily to make the Berlin wall a character within the film, much like Gothic directors use houses as characters), apart from some brief library-archived shots on television screens. Instead, Deutschland‘s directors have to create the split through dress codes, iconography and mise-en-scene, and they certainly execute it well:

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"Deutschland!"
L to R, Jonas Nay and Carina Wiese – in the SundanceTV original series “Deutschland 83” – Photo Credit: Laura Deschner

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Note how Annett Schneider (Sonja Gerhardt) and Martin’s mother (Carina N. Wiese) are often shown outside in nature, and usually wearing free flowing, comfortable clothes. To immediately juxtapose this we have both Martin’s rigid uniform as well as his aunt’s neat, blocky dress code, which later on corresponds to her surroundings in the West. From looking at the smaller aspects of Deutschland ’83 – by looking beyond its impressive narrative and characters – you will be able to find micro-elements like the characters’ dress codes corresponding to certain surroundings, and realise how much detail the creators of this programme have put in.

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Cocteau X Siouxsie Sioux

A while ago I edited together clips from Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946) with the song Siouxsie Sioux and Brian Reitzell created for Hannibal, and I realised I haven’t shared it here so here it is:

Love Crime: A Review of HANNIBAL Season Three, Episode Thirteen – THE WRATH OF THE LAMB

Well, here we are. I am one month late to the Hannibal reviewing/mourning/crying dinner party, but that was because I was mostly in denial. But, like a stack of bodies mounted on top of one another in the middle of the beach, this can’t be ignored any longer.

The final episode of Hannibal opens with Francis Dolarhyde (played by Richard Armitage) manipulating Reba (Rutina Wesley) through carefully planned actions, with the atmosphere of claustrophobia and panic heightened by the intense close-up shots, which are all mostly in the perspective of Reba — what Dolarhyde (or *deep voice* THE DRAGON) describes to her is the next thing audiences can see. As the scene continues, we witness the destruction of everything: the stag’s head, the building in which Dolarhyde’s fantasy was made true, and so much more. The meaning of this scene is heightened further due to the music, by Brian Reitzell, reverting back to the synth-like church music introduced to audiences at the beginning of the season. Every tragedy in this show plays like a Greek tragedy by Sophocles or Euripides; each tragic scene arouses pity and fear in the viewers’ hearts, while reminding us, through imagery like the stag’s head, that this is not over – there are still other Acts to come. This is emphasised by the finale scene, in which Hannibal and Will take down the Red Dragon for good — Dolarhyde is dead, but, according to the dragon-winged shaped CGI blood left under his body, his fantasy of being a dragon lives on; the only way he could have accomplished this is through death, where dreams are limitless.

Hannibal 3x13 - The Wrath of the Lamb - Richard Armitage (Francis Dolarhyde, Great Read Dragon), muerte, death

However, this is not about Dolarhyde, or Alana Bloom, Jack Crawford and Abigail Hobbs. It’s not even about the dogs. This season finale made it pretty clear that this is building up to, the most important aspect of the show, and the most important concerns in Will’s and Hannibal’s lives: each other.

At Hannibal’s glass see-through house, which is introduced to us through a series of montages and establishing shots showcasing the scale and isolation of Hannibal’s world (notably showcasing the contrast of the open house with the isolated, lonesome exterior), we see the extent to which Will’s and Hannibal’s relationship has come. Compared with the long distance shots through the high, black gate of Hannibal’s gothic mansion that could be seen in a Hammer film, the openness of this sequence tells us what we already know: Hannibal and Will are on their journey to the final act, indicated by the high establishing shot of them in the stolen police car driving toward their final destination, merging with their surroundings. This is a vital juxtaposition to the world Hannibal had been inhabiting for the past six episodes, with his fine Art and dignity, and therefore freedom, being taken away. In this world, in just one cut, Hannibal immediately regains his taste, poise and status.

This episode constantly recalls on previous episodes from the past two seasons; we see references to the mind palace from episode one, the micro shots of the blood dripping that was introduced to us through Bedelia’s character, but, most importantly, Bryan Fuller reminds spectator’s of the tea cup shattering metaphor from season two.

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While not directly referenced, the high angle medium shot from Hannibal’s perspective of the shattering of his bottle of wine (after being shot by Dolarhyde) is reminiscent, at least to me, of this vital metaphor that has been used throughout the show. It is here, perhaps, that either one of the show’s central characters realise they are fine china to one another; delicate, needing to be put back together. It could even be said both characters were shattered tea cups from season one, and to be put back together they needed to join forces and commit an act of beauty that will bond them forever.

And so, we have Francis Dolarhyde’s death. Before this sequence, which Matt Zoller Seitz describes as a choreographed dance, Bryan Fuller doesn’t forget to remind viewers of the fact that watching Hannibal is an experience – a moment in time in which nothing will be the same again – through Mads Mikkelsen’s character, who declares that the Red Dragon is “seized by a fantasy world, with the brilliance and freshness and immediacy of childhood,” while Dolarhyde, when setting up his camera to film, states “watching the film will be wonderful, but not as wonderful as the act itself.” Both statements are one and the same, as it is pointing to something one can never have once the act is over; as much as one would want to, we can never go back to the magic and mystery of childhood. Nor can, when Dolarhyde commits the act, the Red Dragon recreate each murder; he has it on film, but even he says it is not enough.

Zadie Smith, when writing about joy, described how joy “is such a human madness” due to the fact once we have experienced it, we can never experience it again, and know this. We know that after a joy we will feel a kind-of depression due to not being in that moment ever again, yet we continuously crave this and yearn for this. This is the teacup metaphor in human emotion, as Hannibal to Will is joy, and vice versa.

Perhaps, then, when they fall into the eroded sea, they are doing it because they know that the extravagant, dream-like, romantic and horrific moment they created together can never be achieved again; this is the greatest moment for them, and the only way to end this is to combine themselves together in the next fairytale, death.

Siouxsie Sioux and Brian Reitzell’s Love Crime plays as we watch Will and Hannibal fall into the stag-shaped nothingness, which is also everything. As the scene ends, Will Graham’s words echo in the moment of darkness: “it’s beautiful”.

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After the credits, Bryan Fuller, Martha Laurentiis, and everyone at Hannibal leaves fans with a scene just for them: Bedelia waiting at the dinner table, minus a leg on her body (it’s the meal for tonight), a seat for Will, a seat for Hannibal, and a seat – the one that would be closest to the camera – missing, because we are in the seat, and always will be.

Hannibal is over now, but thanks to the fact that the show is art, it will take the path of the paintings Hannibal obsessed over, and live on forever.

HANNIBAL Recap: Season Three, Episode One – ANTIPASTO

"Yes, Bedelia, you keep eating those snails. Mmmhhhhmmmm you are going to taste so good." - Hannibal, ANTIPASTO.
“Yes, Bedelia, you keep eating those snails. Mmmhhhhmmmm you are going to taste so good.” – Hannibal, ANTIPASTO.

The much anticipated third season of Hannibal begins with the show’s familiar omniscient voice of Mads Mikkelsen informing audiences of what had just happened in the last season/episode through the simple but loaded ‘previously, on Hannibal’. However, viewers of the show clearly didn’t need to be reminded of the bloodbath that was Mizumono, not only because the episode marked Hannibal as, in my clearly non-bias opinion, the best TV show to have graced our television screens from 2013 (and even ever), but also because the opening episode does not even address this episode that left thousands and thousands of people crying, screaming, standing up in their seats with their eyes falling out of their skull (*cough*). Instead, you’d be forgiven for completely forgetting about the Season 2 finale and thinking that Hannibal had randomly turned into an extremely classy, alternate-universe E! reality show that follows the lives of a workaholic husband and his distanced wife.

The tone of the episodes in Paris/Florence is set from the beginning – we see Hannibal Lecter looking scruffy and imperfect for the first time; visual metaphors and conceits are immediately introduced through the motorbike/moon imagery; and, as Matt Zoller Seitz pointed out, the frames and mise-en-scene are a lot less claustrophobic compared to season 1 and 2. Moreover, in the process of mourning the death of Will’s pendulum swings, whilst re-watching this episode it’s noticeable that the opening of season three has Hannibal’s own take of this — when he is entering the building in Paris, we see a quick succession of multiple fade-to-blacks accompanied by the juxtaposition of the scene’s slow-motion with Hannibal walking in. As this is happening, each fade-to-black and fade back to the Hannibal universe reveals something new: first we see the back of Hannibal’s head, next the front of his face, next a glass of champagne, next a person who is inevitably on Hannibal’s dinner menu for tonight, and so on — it’s as if, much like the opening of season one with Will Graham and his pendulum swings, we are being introduced into Dr. Lecter’s world; Hannibal got into Will Graham’s brain, it’s time, Bryan Fuller – the show’s writer/showrunner – seems to say, we got into his. These similarities in introductory shots to the characters can also be read as an introduction to their psychotic makeup: Will recreates murder scenes, whereas Hannibal creates them, this exemplified by the fact that this is essentially an introduction to Mikkelsen’s character. For the first season, audiences – whether they’d watched the films or read the book – knew who Hannibal Lecter was, he needed no introduction. Will Graham, however, is less well-known, and thus season one almost completely revolved around Will and getting a look into his brain. Season two began to introduce audiences to the inner workings of other characters, however as Hannibal entered more and more into his brain and into controlling Will, the show started to become more an examination of Hannibal through Will- but only lightly. In season three, we finally go inside his brain, whether that’s through stories told by other characters, widescreen flashbacks, or the fade-to-black sequences said above.

Comparing this episode with the past two seasons also proves to contrast the verbal nature of season one and two with the visual nature of season three. Whilst the previous two seasons were obviously shot beautifully, season three takes it to the next level, creating an array of oxymoronic visual metaphors and conceits, one in particular being the use of the single drop of blood. We see this first quite early on in the episode during Bedelia’s flashback; the blood, dripping from Hannibal’s body, is prolific. As the camera continues to focus on the blood dripping down, it can’t seem to focus on one particular drop of blood, instead just watching blood poor to the ground in a beautiful slow-motion micro shot. This quickly changes, however, when Bedelia enters the shop in Florence and the camera focus pulls to a rabbit. The camera focuses on the rabbit’s drop of blood, and watches as it falls to the ground, splattering once it hits the surface. This, to me, seems to be much more effective than the previous mass of blood Hannibal was washing off, and perhaps Bedelia can see this too: a drop of blood is much more meaningful, dangerous, and effective than a volume.

People who’ve watched this show for the past two seasons keep telling me they ‘don’t get’ season three. The reason they ‘don’t get’ season three, I think, is because the past two seasons have always been quite conventional in terms of the crime slash horror genre narrative-wise: there is a murder, FBI investigates, find murderer, ends at that episode (Hannibal is obviously a lot more complicated than this, but I’m oversimplifying to make a point). Instead of this, season three has a completely broken and multi-stranded narrative, along with the visual conceits and more dramatic/complex scenarios: this show seems like it’s asking a lot from its audience, but when one returns to Hannibal’s conversation with Gideon in one of the over-saturated widescreen flashbacks, it’s clear this season, or at least the first six episodes in Florence, are meant to be watched as a fairy tale — we are meant to take Hannibal’s ‘once upon a time’ introduction seriously, as we are experiencing his past and present, we are experiencing this show. This is made clear by the closing of Antipasto as Hannibal leaves us with his creation – the visualisation of his broken heart; the visualisation of Hannibal externalising his experiences.

FAVOURITE QUOTE: “Morality doesn’t exist, only morale” – HANNIBAL LECTER

BEST ADVICE: If you are travelling alone and someone asks if you’re travelling alone, don’t tell them you are travelling alone.