Riphagen: The Untouchable

 

This film, entitled Riphagen: The Untouchable is the story of one Andries Riphagen. As the film begins we met Dries, as he is called by some, accompanied by another man. They arrive at a home in Amsterdam in The Netherlands. It is some time in 1944.

They ask the homeowners if they are hiding any Jews. When an older woman is discovered behind a false wall, Riphagen (played by Jeroen van Koningsbrugge) tells her can help her. She will have to turn over all her valuables in exchange for a safe passage out of Amsterdam. She says she has no valuables.

But Riphagen finds a packet of diamonds hidden in her hair. He promises to return all of her jewels and diamonds after the war. He will need to take about 10 of the diamonds to satisfy the Germans who think that he is indeed working for them.

He tells this woman and other Jews that he is working with the Dutch Resistance and he can get them safely out of Amsterdam.

So, we are faced with this question: Is Riphagen a hero, or is he a traitor to his fellow Dutch people. Said another way is Riphagen an Oscar Schindler or is he something else?

This film was originally a three-part tv mini-series. Netflix thought that these three parts could be merged and made into a film. So you can see it with a Netflix streaming account.

I watched this film for the premise seemed intriguing. I’ve been to Amsterdam, and loved the place; so seeing it again was an idea I couldn’t resist. Of course Amsterdam in 1944 would not be the same as the Amsterdam where I spent some time in 2015.

Obviously, the Amsterdam in the film is not the one I remember from a year and half ago. In fact I watched for about 45 minutes before seeing even a hint of a canal. Maybe that is because a good portion of the film was shot in the Dutch city Utrecht which has an older and more historical look to it whereas Amsterdam has a much more modern look. Having said that, I can state that the topic of the film is a familiar topic – The Holocaust – albeit this story is told from a different angle and from a different perspective.

I must say that Jeroen van Koningsbrugge about whom you might say appears in this film as a version of the 70″s and 80’s actor Telly Savalas in appearance, gives a more than credible performance as the anti-Schindler.

As for the rest of the cast, I knew none of them, but found most them excellent with one exception – the character of Wim Sanders as played by Michel Sluysmans.

The two-hour plus film has a good crisp look to it. There’s not a preponderance of night scenes, or rain-drenched, or foggy scenes either.

The costume designer has done a wonderful job in recreating both the men and women suits and dresses of the time.

Also for the record, the automobiles used gave the definite sense of Europe in the 40’s as we saw both German and French cars.

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Lion

I’m not saying that the timing in my seeing the film Lion, and the announcement of the BAFTA Awards has any kind of deep meaning. What I am saying is the fact that I liked the film and I am decidedly ratified that the British Academy of Film and Television also liked the film.

Lion walked away with two BAFTAs which are Britain’s Oscar-equivalents. Dev Patel won for Best Performance by a Supporting Actor (film) and Luke Davies won for Best Adapted Screenplay. The film Lion is up for six Oscars and both Patel and Davies have been nominated in the same categories that they won their BAFTAs.

Lion is a film based on a true story (Mild spoilers ahead) . Saroo (played by Sunny Pawar) is a small child of five living in a very poor neighborhood called Ganesha Talai located in the vicinity of the city of Kwandha in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. His mother is a day laborer and Saroo helps his older brother to steal coal from rail trains which they can then sell in the neighborhood.

On a particular day, Saroo’s older brother Guddu decides that he will head off to a bigger place to do laborer work that pays more. Saroo begs to go with him, and despite the fact that little Saroo is really too small for the work, Guddu takes his little brother with him.

At a rail station, Saroo is instructed to wait for his brother, who promises to return. The small boy falls asleep. When he awakes there’s no sign of Guddu, so the small boy climbs aboard a parked train to look for his brother. Again he falls asleep. This train happens to be a newly de-commissioned train and will be driven empty to Calcutta which is 1600 kilometers away.

When the train finally arrives at Calcutta, 1600 kilometers and two days later, Saroo is not only without his brother, but is literally as lost as one can be. He does not speak Bengali, the local language, he doesn’t know his own surname, his mother’s name, nor can he accurately describe the name of his neighborhood.

After a few days of hanging with a group of homeless street kids, and then being taken in by a woman called Noor, he is eventually ‘captured’ or maybe collected is a better word. He is taken to an orphanage that is described by other kids there as ‘a very bad place’.

That’s basically the first half of the film. Saroo will ultimately be adopted by a Tasmanian couple – the Brierley’s.

Sue Brierley is played by Nicole Kidman, and John Brierley by David Wenham. We see a bit of little Saroo settling in with Brierleys until the screen goes black for a longish 3-4 seconds before we see a graphic that says ’20 years later’.

Saroo Brierley is now played by Dev Patel. This begins the second half of the film, and at its core, it replicates the first half. Whereas little Saroo was a small uneducated child lost in a, to him, foreign city, Dev Patel’s Saroo has none of the disadvantages that his younger self faced.

But he will want the same thing, to return to his roots and find his original family.

The differences between the first half of the film and the second half come down to conventionality. For the viewer, we know as little as the young Saroo. We have none of the information that is asked of him. So for us , we are as lost as the onscreen child. Also as viewers we know that Saroo will survive. But despite that, the first half is more involving and interesting.

The second half is less involving and less interesting. The older Saroo is more than capable of acting on his dreams and remembrances. Plus he has the support of his adoptive parents as well as a girl friend (Lucy is played by Rooney Mara). He is going to distance himself from his supportive family and friends as he works through his dilemma of researching.

What I am getting to is that the child Saroo’s separation from his brother and mother is an external fact and that he has no tools at hand to work things through. But the older and adult Saroo’s problem is mostly internal. Yes it is a struggle for him, but he still has a roof, and food, and safety and security; so his way of dealing with it will be to work things out internally and then using his memory and a terrific computer tool – Google Earth – to solve his problem which is to finds his roots.

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The Young Pope – New HBO Limited Series

HBO rolled out its new limited series The Young Pope on Sunday night (January 15th). Written and directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the series opening episode is nothing if not shocking.

Sorrentino, as we saw in both The Great Beauty (2013) and Youth (2015), is a master of both the beautiful as well as the grotesque. His compositional skills have produced some of the most visually arresting and stunning scenes in both of the above named films. Be sure and confident that this will continue in this limited TV series.

To simplify the story we have Lenny Belardo (played by Jude Law) as the just elected new Pope, and the first ever American Pope and is about to be introduced to the world. Or as the Italian press and media must have gushed out again and again – Habemus Papam – which is Latin for We Have a Pope. This is usually uttered by the Cardinal Protodeacon, who is the most senior of the Cardinal Deacons. This is announced from the Central Balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica, and what follows is the new Pope gives his Urbi et Orbi – To the City [of Rome] and to the World address.

While that may be how a new Pope is introduced to the world, along with the white smoke. it is not how the series begins. Rather we see Judy Law emerging from under a huge pile of sleeping babies. But it is only a dream.

Law, as Pius XIII, then proceeds to shower and dress (yes, there’s a back view quick shot of a nude Pope about to enter his shower). What follows is a long sequence of the Pope heading to the Central Balcony. Think of Scorsese’s classic Goodfellas scene when Henry Hill and his date make their way through the underbelly of New York’s Copacabana Club. Only this time it is not a continuous or single tracking take. We have a number of cuts to the reactions of the Cardinals, and Monsignors, and other Vatican staff, as well as the faces of many in the huge throng below in St. Peter’s Square who blissfully await their first view of the new Pope.

To be certain as well as specific,  it was splendidly shot and edited.

Sorrentino still has more than a few cards left to play. The day of the new Pope’s introduction is  in the midst of a rain shower. We see literally thousands of umbrellas in the huge crowd. Before saying even a single word, Lenny opens his arms wide and leans back gazing to the heavens – and, as if on cue, the rains stop.

He then launches his Urbi et Orbi speech, and for a while it sounds like the standard Pope speak (aside from the English). But then midway, Sorrentino turns the speech inside out, and instead of papal good wishes and niceties, we get the complete opposite.

This Pope is winging it, and making it up as he goes. He has no intention of following the rules or traditions. He’s like no other Pope of all that came before him.

He’s a conservative and he is going to bring the Church into line with what he wants rather than the way it has always been. He will later say, And this is only the beginning.

He has a one on one conference with Cardinal Voiello (Silvio Orlando above) who is in charge of Finances, Politics, and almost everything that isn’t theological. When he tells the new Pope that he is basically going to run the business and political side of the Church, the new Pope demurs and announces that his Senior Advisor will be Sister Mary, who rescued the young Lenny from an orphanage in California when he was just a boy. Diane Keaton has the role.

Humbled and despondent, Cardinal Voiello has been placed in a position of having to slink away. Lenny has already pressed the secret and silent buzzer beneath the desk that will summon a nun who will spin a lie (example – your 2:30 appointment is waiting in the anteroom).  How obliterating for this Cardinal to be dismissed so easily, and this is only their first meeting.

This new Pope is going shake things up, change the rules as he sees fit, and he could not care less about traditions of being nice to the staff. There was a terrific scene when Cardinal Voiello attempts to challenge the new Pope.

Voiello: Pardon me Holy Father, but you may not smoke in this room.

Belardo: Who made that rule?

Voielle: Your predecessor…

Belardo: Well, there’s a new Pope in town.

That’s our boy Lenny Belardo. He’s not concerned about being nice to anyone for any reason. He doesn’t tweet – he says it right to someone’s face. He doesn’t say it, but you can see the similarities between this Pope and the new President Elect.

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Taboo – New Series on FX Begins January 10th

While Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the brand new TV Series on cable channel FX called Taboo are both set in 19th Century London, they are in different time frames. But they do share a similar foundation.

In Sweeney Todd, a judge sentences a man, who is innocent of a crime to a penal colony in Australia in the mid 1840’s. 15 years later the man returns and he is revenge-minded.

Taboo begins with a man, long thought to have perished in the sinking of a slave ship off the coast of Africa years ago, now returns to London after apparently 10 years. He is James Keziah Delaney. He is played by Tom Hardy, and the series is set in the era of Regency London of 1814.

The entire story of Taboo has already been hinted at strongly in the first hour. But I’ll label the four numbered paragraphs below with the term MILD SPOILERS.

1) James Keziah Delaney (Hardy) likely had sex with his half-sister who is married and known as Zilpha Geary (Oona Chaplin) – which may be why he was forced to ship off to Africa years back. We see no flash backs (at least not in Episode One) to make it a certainty, so I am going off the title of the series plus the contents of a letter she penned to Hardy’s Delaney in which she asks that the past remain the past.

2) The East India Company headed by Sir Stuart Strange (Jonathan Pryce) and his partners want that parcel of land (a part of Vancouver Island) bequeathed to Delaney by his recently departed Dad. They obviously know prime real estate when they see it. They even call it the gateway to China.

3) Delaney will seek revenge (against some one as yet still undisclosed) as he’s learned (after arranging an illegal post-burial autopsy) that his Dad was poisoned.

4) The first guy to die could be the half sister’s husband. His name is Thorne Geary – a vile name if there ever was one. He is played by Jefferson Hall.  He’s already displayed a strong temper, he’s maltreated his wife (I again am assuming) and he ‘s already threatened to kill Delaney. Again for reasons not made clear.

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Yes this is London circa 1814. Dark and gloomy all over town. The rich had many more candles than did the poor, who mostly are dirty with rotted teeth, and are candle poor. Hardy’s Delaney strides about in a top hat and black long coat.

Delaney arrives at Dad's Funeral

Delaney arrives at Dad’s Funeral

He’s more than a bit shadowy and things that go on a round him are often strange and inexplicable. For example, somehow, there an elegant white horse waiting for him (maybe a rental) when he makes land from the ship that came in from Africa. He buries something or is he digging something up – it is hard to tell.

He’s a man of mystery, who is more than intriguing, and you can tell that he’s got stuff swirling around within him, that will make the entire East India Company Board of Directors wish they hadn’t antagonized him. Delaney never even opened the envelope that contained what the EIC considered a fair price for the pile of rocks – that parcel of land off Nootka Channel now owned by Delaney.

I don’t think I am wrong to expect that what we will see in the upcoming episode will be more violent and bloody. After all the show is rated as MA (Mature), L (Language) and V (Violent).

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Emerald City – The New NBC Series

First takeaways from the brand new NBC Series called Emerald City.

Yes, it is a re-imagining of The Wizard of Oz, the beloved 1939 version of the Frank L. Baum story that starred Judy Garland, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger, Frank Morgan, Jack Haley, Billie Burke, and Margaret Hamilton.

The story starts up so quickly with Dorothy, as a nurse working in a hospital in Lucas, Kansas. It is the present day. First she steals some medication, (for someone else – Dorothy is no druggie). Then she turns down an offer a dinner with a doctor and rushes home.

Or it may have happened in the reverse order.  By the time she gets home. the dark skies have become quite threatening.

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As the tornado touches down, Dorothy takes shelter in a parked police cruiser, not realizing that there is a German Shepherd K-9 police dog in the back seat. Of course this car is swept up into the vortex of the tornado. There are no knitting grannies or cows sailing by in this tornado to be seen.

As expected the police cruiser crashes down and kills a witch. No, this is not Munchkinland. And there are no Ruby slippers – instead there are a pair of ruby gloves. Rather we’ve arrived in the territories of the Tribal Freelanders, likely a nomadic tribe living off the land.

Dorothy is led by a pack of scruffy children (a mild reference to the 1939 Munchkins) to an encampment.

There she’s given her marching orders. Rather than being killed by these warlike people, she will be walked to the border of the Tribal Free Lands by a guy. Then she will cross the border and proceed on her own, with the new Toto – the K9 police dog, to Emerald City. She’s told that the Wizard there might be able to get her home.

The yellow brick road is still there but only now it appears as an unpaved roadway, or a plain dirt and dusty road if you like.. Of course the first person she meets is the new Scarecrow. He’s not just hung up on a pole, with the crows totally indifferent to him. No, this time, he been strapped down and barbed-wired onto a cross. And the crows are still totally indifferent towards him.

Dorothy gets him down off the cross and though he’s in bad shape physically and mentally, she gets him up and on his feet. He can’t remember his name, so Dorothy calls him Lucas.

And off they go.

At this point I should tell you that (at least in the first two episodes) there’s less of the Baum tale of Dorothy’s Odyssey to Oz than you might have expected or hoped for. Things seem to go off on different  directions and tangents, and many of those story threads that we see are either unexplained or lack coherence with what we’ve seen so far.

First let’s talk about the titular Wizard of Oz. Here the wizard is played by Vincent D’Onofrio. But to issue fair warning – when we first see him, he looks more like Robbie Coltrane‘s Hagrid from the Harry Potter films.

The Wiz has his hands up and Hagrid has his hands down

The Wiz has his hands up and Hagrid has his hands down

However before the first episode is over, we see the Wizard, when he’s back in his private chambers, he will remove his wig (the one atop his head). At first sight of him, I thought that he was wearing a wig as a character contrivance. Which is indeed the case. And I will also cast my ballot toward the beard being a fake as well.

Glinda the ‘Good Witch’ is portrayed by Joely Richardson, but she’s involved in some sort of sisterly warfare with her sister, the Black Witch  (um…the Margaret Hamilton role), played by Ana Ularu. I can’t give you more details about this as it seems both extraneous and of little interest for we viewers.

Now you might be thinking of the famous flying monkeys from the 1939 film. I did notice one monkey like image but he was some sort of mechanical image projector (maybe this is a stand-in for a crystal ball) – think of something like a movie projector.

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Call My Agent! aka Dix pour Cent

 

In real life, and at the top of the list of Film Talent Agencies we have the CAA (Creative Artist Agency), and WME (William Morris Endeavor). And there a few hundred more. Narrowing our focus to just one agent, from television, specifically the HBO show Entourage, we have the fictional super-agent Ari Gold.

dix-pour-cent-dix-pour-cent-staffel-1-1

Now let me add one agency to our discussion.

Also from television, French TV specifically, via Netflix, we have the fictional agency known all over Paris as ASK. Which is the acronym for the boutique film talent agency Samuel Kerr.

ASK is a small shop set up in a swanky 1st Arrondissiment location – just four agents (all firm partners) with assistants, a receptionist,

The receptionist Sofi played by Stefi Celma

The receptionist Sofi played by Stefi Celma

a senior partner,  plus a billing/accounting department to keep track of money both in and out. There’s a press department, and finally there’s a legal department that checks that all the t’s are crossed and the i’s dotted in all the contracts. Then add in an ingenue – she’s just been hired as an assistant to a tough agent.boss who’s previous assistant has just walked out in frustration just minutes before.

I’m really talking about another new series on Netflix and another new series from overseas. Netflix is calling it Call My Agent! In France, they called it Dix pour Cent or (in English – 10 Per Cent.). Between you and me, this comedy series (6 episodes of an hour each) is a lot of laughs and a joy to watch.

The neat element they use, probably lifted from Entourage, is that each of the episodes centers around real-life French film stars playing themselves. Of course there are issues to contend with and our bunch of agents can go crazy trying to resolve each one.

Take Episode 1 called Cecile. The Cecile in question is Cecile De France. She is soon to appear in the upcoming HBO series, The Young Pope which begins on January 15th. Cecile plays opposite Jude Law in TYP. In this episode, she’s a major film star and is up for a role in Tarantino’s next film, and she is late for a photo shoot. Her agent, Gabriel Sarda, played by Gregory Montel,  is frantically trying to reach her.

Cecile is out in the suburbs taking a horse riding lesson, as in the Tarantino film she will have to ride a horse. She’s told everyone that, Oui, I can ride, but that’s false.

As if that wasn’t enough of a problem, Gabriel, her agent, gets a text that Tarantino has decided that Cecile is too old for the part, so they are not going to sign her for the movie. Sarda is of course devastated. So much so, that he can’t bring himself to tell Cecile.

Naturally that sets the carousel in motion. Cecile will fire Gabriel as her agent, and hire another partner at ASK, one Matthias Barneville,

Thibault de Montalembert as Matthias

Thibault de Montalembert as Matthias

who has used some threats about getting the licenses to shoot in Paris approved to persuade one of Tarantino’s producers to agree to get Cecile’s role back.

The ingenue was the one who leaked the news to Cecile about why Tarantino passing on Cecile

The ingenue was the one who leaked the news to Cecile about why Tarantino is passing on Cecile for the role.

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Tokyo Trial

Formally, it was called The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE). Convened in late April, 1946, the purpose of this trial, also known as the Tokyo Trial, was to try the leaders of Japan for three kinds of war crimes.

Netflix, in conjunction with the Japanese TV Network called NHK, Don Carmody Television, and FATT Productions, has made this mini-series (4 episodes) available to its streaming service subscribers.

General Douglas MacArthur appointed 12 judges (the 12th was a replacement as one judge left to return home. These judges came from 11 countries – Australia, Canada, China, France, India, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, UK., USA. and the Soviet Union.

The expectation was that the trial would last about 6 months. Instead it lasted 2 1/2 years, or about 1000 days.

MacArthur not only agreed to prosecute 28 Japanese leaders but he also approved the Charter which gave the Tribunal the right to prosecute the Japanese.

They would be charged in three categories.

  1. Crimes of Aggression
  2. Crimes against humanity
  3. Conventional war crimes

Using the Nuremberg Trials as the precedent, the President of the Tribunal,  Sir William Webb from Australia, believed that they had the moral authority as well as the legal authority to try to convict the Japanese. Item # 1 would prove to be both a stumbling block as well as a controversial point in their judicial discussions.

Webb was played by Tim Ahern in this production.

The item #1 – Crimes of Aggression – was also known as Crimes against peace. The concept of this was to charge the top Japanese leaders with: leading, organizing, instigating, or being accomplices in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to wage wars of aggression, and war or wars in violation of international law.

Said another way – this concept was the opposite of a self-defensive war effort.

The first of the justices to step up and disagree was the Indian Rabhabinod Pal, a Judge on the Calcutta High Court. He argued, in a lengthy dissenting opinion (over 1200 pages) that a) At the time of the crimes, there was no international law against waging an ‘aggressive’ war. The basics of that was the Japanese were being charged retroactively. He also argued that b) the argument of the prosecution was quite weak with regard to the conspiratorial aspects of waging an aggressive war, and c) there was nothing to show that these crimes were a product of government policy or that the Japanese government officials were directly responsible for the atrocities committed (like the events in Nanking, China, or the maltreatment and abuse of POWs).

Indian actor Irrfan Khan had the role of Justice Pal.

Also in the trenches (at least in the pre-verdict discussions) with Judge Pal was the Law Professor from New Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Professor Bert Röling.

Dutch actor Marcel Hensema played Röling.

On the other side of the ledger, meaning those who argued (most strenuously in favor of the prosecution)  were the Scottish Judge, The Honorable Lord Patrick, the Chinese Judge, Mei ju-ao, and the Canadian, Edward Stuart McDougall, Justice of the Court of King’s Bench of Quebec. In today’s terms, they would be called the hawks.

Paul Freeman played Lord Patrick.

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The Break aka La Treve – Now On Netflix

Have you ever been to or driven through the Ardennes?

Do you know where the Ardennes are? Though I knew the name, I had to look them up to be able to place them on a map. The Ardennes are a hilly and forested area that is mostly in South East Belgium. but also included a part of Northern France and Luxembourg.

The Ardennes, specifically the small town of Heiderfeld, Belgium is the location of a new offering from Netflix. The original title was La Treve which is French for ‘The Truce’, but Netflix has chosen to call this 10 episode series ‘The Break’.

In fact La Treve’s English translation can almost mean something like:

A break in the hostilities
A respite
A ceasefire
or peace.

Which fits the series exactly. Here’s a version of the story line for La Treve:

The body of 19-year-old Driss Assani, above, who is a young African from Togo, recruited to play soccer for the Heiderfeld football club,

is pulled out of the river Semois, a short distance from Heiderfeld, a small town of a few thousand inhabitants in the Belgian Ardennes. The police investigation is led by Inspector Yoann Peeters, who has recently moved there after a personal domestic tragedy and a professional one as well. Peeters is aided by Sebastian Drummer, an idealistic and inexperienced young police officer.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Left to Right: Peeters, Drummer, and the bearded Police Chief.

Peeters is adamant that the death was not a suicide, as in a leap from the local bridge. That’s Peeters on the bridge in the image below.

The suicide idea was formulated by the local chief of police, who, likely – above all other considerations, wanted to keep the peace, close the case, and not stir things up.

At this point, there’s a flash forward, and we find that Detective Peeters is in a psychiatric hospital and is under going an evaluation. We have no idea why.

And that is the basis for the series. It is sort of like a TV series told in separate layers:

The Present time: The murder investigation as led by Peeters
The Past: The fact of how Driss was killed is shown in different perspectives as new suspects come into play
The Future: Peeters is in a psych ward.

I kind of liked the show as it seemed to be drawn from the British series Broadchurch. In the British show, a new cop came into a British coastal town with some baggage which included a problematic situation as a policeman in another jurisdiction, Yoann Peters is in the same situation as he headed up the disastrous Operation Berger, which led to four police officers being killed in Brussels.

Peeters is played by an actor called Yoann Blanc. Peeters is intense and driven, to put it mildly. In addition, he is popping antidepressants and amphetamines. It is obvious that while he seems over his wife’s passing, and the infamous Operation Berger, the affair in Brussels, externally – in reality, he’s still a struggling work in progress.

But if only it was just a lead detective struggling to solve a case, and overcome his personal demons at the same time. Heiderfeld is a small town but there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. In no particular order there’s the issue of teenage drug use and sex, an ambitious dam project that will require some locals to give up their lands and homes, a crooked soccer coach who has a history of fixing games, and the soccer players are still waiting for their signing bonuses.

There’s a hermit like guy who lives in the woods. He’s called Indian Jeff and he is who the police like as the killer. Then we have a young man, the son of diplomats, who throws wild parties involved sex and drugs. There’s an older fellow who has his own museum of Nazi paraphernalia and artifacts. Let’s not forget a woman who twenty years prior was Peeter’s girl friend.

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Four Seasons in Havana

Detective Conde: I’m too fucking nostalgic…
Karina: How decadent…
Detective Conde: Decadence is what fucked up Havana

That’s a bit of the dialogue from Episode 1 f the 4 part series that Netflix has introduced to us just a few weeks ago. The series is called Four Seasons in Havana, and the star, as Detective Conde is Jose Perugoria.

The basics are straightforward. Homicides happen and homicides need to be solved.

The title of the first episode is The Winds Of Lent. The skinny is this: There’s been a brutal murder of a young high school teacher. Conde is on the case and as he works through it, he becomes aware that this teacher taught at the very high school that Conde went to.

As the story expands, we are going to discover the involvement of a drug dealer, some possible police corruption, how important is loyalty, the truth does matter, and that our lead detective falls in love far too quickly.

The series begins this way: It is night-time in Havana but more like in the last few hours before sunrise. There’s some smoke and it seems to becoming from a few separate block. A fire? Not at all. This is just a fumigation truck spraying something into the atmosphere.

But that can only hold your interest for just so long. We need something else. How about this?

 

A woman and a car. Who is she? We have no idea.

A man enters the scene. He asks if she needs some help with the car which has a left front tire that needs to be changed. We have no idea who he is either. But we will come to learn that he is Lieutenant Conde, a homicide cop.

Later, or is it the next day – the homicide dicks get a call about a murder. Conde goes there as does the forensics officer. There are some available clues – Marijuana in the ash tray, a packet of four tabs of methamphetamine under the bed. Attempts were made to wipe away finger prints. The woman was beaten, raped, and then choked to death.

And there was more, Semen was found in the vagina and a used condom was found in the bathroom. The forensic analysis reports that the semen samples came from two different men.

Conde tries to gain some information or insights to the case so he goes to the high school to ask some questions. None of the students will talk to him – as Conde is a cop.

So it looks like Conde has run into a stone wall. The higher-ups down at Police HQ want results and fast.

Conde will seek some help from an old friend of his from the neighborhood. A guy named Red. Conde asks him to get him some intel.

Red: Asking questions will get me killed
Conde: You don’t have to ask, just keep your eyes open…

The series is set in Havana in the 1990’s. This was the period that was the most difficult for Cuba. The economic sanctions as well as the isolated status of Cuba made living conditions difficult. People lacked so much that their main passions were limited to food, music, and sex.

This Havana, though filled with color and ambience is kind of a bleak place. Detective Conde and his brother and a few other friends all remember the Revolution and the bright promises made by Castro and company. Now they are in their late forties and their disappointment with the Cuba they live  in, rather than the Cuba they had hoped for, is not only apparent, but is more than a feeling. It imbues every aspect of life.

Conde’s brother was wounded in the war in Angola and no longer has the use of legs which is of course a difficult reminder of the Cuba that had failed at that time.

Any way, I’d rather not give away too much of either the first episode of the three that follow. This mini-series has been billed as the first Caribbean Noir. Directed by Felix Viscarret, and adapted from the novels penned by Leonardo Padura, the series oozes atmosphere, color, and vivid characters.

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