Now firmly established as a key component of the Berlin Film Festival, this year’s Berlinale Series will welcome Italy’s “The Good Mothers,” Norway’s “Arkitekten” and “Dahaad,” about a female police officer dealing with misogyny and traditional Indian society while also chasing a possible serial killer.
“Why Try to Change Me Now” and “Agent,” Denmark’s answer to the French smash, will also be shown, joined by Australia’s “Bad Behavior” – made by Matchbox Pictures, also behind Yvonne Strahovski and Cate Blanchett starrer “Stateless” – and HBO Max drama “Spy/Master,” all vying for the newly established Berlinale Series Award. Already announced eco-thriller “The Swarm” will debut out of competition.
More from Variety
“Stories with a reasonable budget – that’s certainly a new trend coming from commissioners,” said Julia Fidel, head of Berlinale Series.
“It’s no longer all about dramas that will cost ridiculous amounts of money. The argument is that people value good ideas, not big budgets.”
Still, the likes of “The Swarm,” depicting people’s fight against an unknown enemy living in the sea – exec-produced by Emmy award-winning Frank Doelger and set to open the section – and “Spy/Master” are bound to bring in the thrills.
“It has some very strong Romanian arthouse pedigree in it: Cristian Mungiu’s Mobra Films and Proton Cinema are involved and so is Adina Sãdeanu, who wrote it together with Kirsten Peters,” noted Fidel about the Cold War story, which sees a Romanian Secret Service agent, direct consultant to Nicolae Ceaușescu, getting caught up in the web of his own lies. Alec Secăreanu, known for “God’s Own Country,” is cast as the lead.
“It’s a really great show that HBO is bringing to us. It has incredible images and fantastic acting. We aren’t really focusing on historical dramas this year, but this one felt very relevant today. People would look at it differently before Russia invaded Ukraine.”
While the young adult trend has shifted back to the broadcasters trying to win back their audience, says Fidel, climate change and future visions, and nightmares, are another big theme, with four-episode miniseries “Arkitekten” and “Dome 16,” the latter chosen for the Berlinale Series Market Selects, both taking on the housing crisis in the near future.
“There is a lot of wit and very sarcastic observations in it. And it’s really, really brilliant. It may mark the arrival of a new talent,” she says about “Arkitekten,” in which gentrification has gone so far that a female intern at an architectural company is forced to stay in a car park, where people are renting out space. Then, a competition is announced: Various architects are trying to find new, affordable ways of living in the city.
Gender politics also stay relevant, with many familiar genres emerging with a female twist.
“In ‘Dahaad,’ the police inspector with the cool shades and one-liners, riding a motorcycle, is a woman. In ‘Arkitekten,’ it’s the female protagonist who is looking for success and isn’t afraid of betrayal. Eight years ago, it would have been a man,” says Fidel.
“Dahaad,” with its “badass” protagonist, won’t be the only show coming from India, with Berlinale Series Market Selects’ “Brown” depicting another female investigator on the hunt for a brutal killer. While it will boast a “Silence of the Lambs”-like setup, teases Fidel, “Dahaad” will dive into politically charged subjects.
“It’s a great story, because it says so much about Indian society and addresses all these complicated issues, including anti-Muslim sentiments.”
Disney+’s offering “The Good Mothers” – based on a true story – will also focus on women. Women of the mafia, to be exact, as the attorney who is trying to bring down the ‘Ndrangheta decides to concentrate on them instead.
“To have your classic mafia story turned around by focusing on the women is just so simple and clever. The streamers are really strong this year,” notes Fidel.
Finally, in “Why Try to Change Me Now” – Berlinale Series’ “super arthouse experience” and its first Chinese title – a young police officer participates in an investigation which will lead him to an old childhood friend. Its director, Dalei Zhang, was already awarded in Berlin for his 2020 short “Day is Done.”
“[China’s] economic reform had an impact on my parents, as well as other family members. Somehow, when I try to revisit those hard days in my memory, I remembered more optimism and persistence rather than suffering and struggle,” he said in a statement.
“Those days felt quite romantic, and I recalled hearing more music at home as it became my father’s shield from the gloomy mood.”
The show is an adaptation of Shuang Xuetao’s novella “Moses on the Plain.”
Spirits will also be lifted thanks to “Agent,” created by Nikolaj Lie Kaas, and Canada’s “À propos d’Antoine,” a dramedy about a woman who meets the man of her dreams, and then his dysfunctional family.
“If she wants to become a part of his life, she has to accept that too. But luckily, there is a lot of love around,” reassured Fidel.
“You will laugh, you will feel awkward, you will cry. It’s really touching.”
Series Market Selects also features “1985,” a 2022 Canneseries standout from Belgium’s Eyeworks Film & TV Drama. Inspired by true events, it mixes coming-of-age drama with the depiction of the origins of modern Belgium as two young Gendarmarie police recruits are entangled in police corruption – insider drug trading, heavy fire arms robbery – and the rise of the brutal Nijvel gang.
Another potential Market Selects highlight, given the pedigree of its writers, is “Traitor,” a U.K.-Israel co-production from “Euphoria,” “False Flag” and “No Man’s Land” scribes Amit Cohen and Ron Leshem. Billed as an edge-of-the-seat thriller ,it turns on a Tel Aviv-India flight which suddenly vanishes in mid-air.
Isaki Lacuesta, returning to Berlin after presenting “One Year, One Night” in the main competition only last year, will bring “The Chauffeur’s Son” to the Co-Pro Series. The 1980s-set thriller is produced by Madrid-based Zeta Studios and based on a best-selling novel by Jordi Amat.
Another familiar name, renowned producer Ada Solomon (behind Golden Bear winner “Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn”) will now try her hand at “Export Only.”
Finland’s ReelMedia and Norway’s Maipo Film are backing “Tipping Point”: as reported by Variety in October, the story will combine a complicated father-daughter relationship, interrupted by murder, with a battle against climate change. The Danish series “Family Stories: A Boy Disappears” by Nimbus Film (“The Bridge”), created by Julie Budtz Sørensen, is being presented in cooperation with the Series Mania Forum in Lille, where it was pitched in 2022.
Berlinale Series Market will take place over Feb. 20-22.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.
Berlinale Series 2023
All information is provided by the Berlinale:
Agent by Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Creator), Nikolaj Lie Kaas (Director) | with Esben Smed, Selma Sol í Dali Pape, Julie Agnete Vang, Nikolaj Coster- Waldau, Ulrich Thomsen
Berlinale Series | World premiere | Broadcaster: TV2 | 2/8 episodes
As an agent for some of the top names in music and film, Johan’s job is to solve his clients’ private and professional problems. Chronically overstretched, but never short of ideas, he teeters breathlessly between ingenious plans and absolute chaos.
Arkitekten (The Architect) by Kerren Lumer-Klabbers (Director) | with Eili Harboe, Fredrik Stenberg D-S, Ingrid Unnur Giæver, Alexandra Gjerpen, Petronella Barker
Berlinale Series | World premiere | Debut film | Broadcaster: Viaplay Group | 4/4 episodes
When a project to build a thousand flats in Oslo is put out to tender, architect Julie has an idea: why not convert empty underground car parks into residential buildings? A pitch-black, keenly observed satire about an all-too-near future.
Bad Behaviour by Corrie Chen (Director) | with Jana McKinnon, Markella Kavenagh, Yerin Ha, Erana James, Melissa Kahraman
Berlinale Series | International premiere | Broadcaster: Stan | 2/4 episodes
At the Silver Creek boarding school for girls in the Australian outback, students are largely left to their own devices in their spare time. This series tells the gripping and unsparing story of how the desire to belong sets in motion a cruel dynamic.
Dahaad (Roar) by Reema Kagti, Zoya Akhtar (Creator), Reema Kagti (Showrunner), Reema Kagti, Ruchika Oberoi (Directors) | with Sonakshi Sinha, Vijay Varma, Gulshan Devaiah, Sohum Shah
Berlinale Series | World premiere | 2/8 episodes
Women are disappearing without a trace in Rajasthan and nobody seems surprised. But police officer Anjali Bhaati notices a similarity in the cases: long nightly phone calls and a boyfriend that no one in the neighbourhood has ever seen.
The Good Mothers by Julian Jarrold, Elisa Amoruso (Directors) | with Gaia Girace, Valentina Bellè, Barbara Chichiarelli, Simona Distefano, Micaela Ramazzotti
United Kingdom / Italy 2023
Berlinale Series | World premiere | Broadcaster: Disney+ | 2/6 episodes
Denise’s mother disappears without a trace, quite literally before her eyes. Years ago, she had testified against her mafia boss husband Carlo Costo. Denise herself becomes a key ally of a prosecutor determined to overthrow this brutal system from within.
Spy/Master by Adina Sădeanu, Kirsten Peters (Creator), Christopher Smith (Director) | with Alec Secăreanu, Parker Sawyers, Svenja Jung, Ana Ularu, Laurențiu Bănescu
Romania / Germany 2023
Berlinale Series | World premiere | Broadcaster: HBO Max, Warner TV Serie | 2/6 episodes
In 1978, a high-ranking spy from the Eastern Bloc defected to the West. Creators Adina Sădeanu and Kirsten Peters use this as a starting point for a game of spy poker between the CIA, Securitate, KGB and Stasi in which no one puts their cards on the table.
Why Try to Change Me Now by Yu Gong (Creator), Xiaohui Wang (Showrunner), Dalei Zhang (Director) | with Zijian Dong, Qing Hai, Tian Qiu, Baoshi Dong, Chen Zhang
People’s Republic of China 2023
Berlinale Series | International premiere | Broadcaster: iQIYI, Inc | 2/6 episodes
In the 1990s, a series of murders rocks a run-down industrial city in north-eastern China. Dalei Zhang, winner of a Silver Bear in 2021, adapts the award-winning novel “Moses on the Plain” by Xuetao Shuang with precision and poetry.
Berlinale Series Market Selects 2023
Creator: Willem Wallyn. Showrunners: Peter Bouckaert, Gunter Schmid. Director: Wouter Bouvijn
With Tijmen Govaerts, Mona Mina Leon, Aimé Claeys
Production company: Eyeworks Films & TV Drama
Broadcaster: VRT, RTBF
World Sales: STUDIOCANAL
1985 sheds light on the story of the violent crime spree that shattered Belgium during the 1980s. We follow the youths who fought to make things right, through inspiring and relatable protagonists, with whom we share doubts and delusions.
À propos d’Antoine (About Antoine), Canada
Creator: Cathleen Rouleau. Director: Podz
With Cathleen Rouleau, Antoine Parent-Bédard, Claude Legault
Production company: ComediHa!
Broadcaster: Club illico, TVA (Quebecor)
World Sales: ComediHa! Distribution
About Antoine tackles authenticity, sensitivity, humour and a rarely explored theme in fiction: life with a multi-handicapped child. The show gives an insight into the daily life of a special family with all the quirks, highs, and lows it entails.
The Ark, USA / Serbia
Creators: Dean Devlin, Jonathan Glassner. Showrunners: Dean Devlin, Jonathan Glassner. Directors: Dean Devlin, Milan Todorović
With Christie Burke, Richard Fleeshman, Reece Ritchie
Production Companies: Electric Entertainment, Balkanic Media
World Sales: Electric Entertainment
On a planetary colonization mission to save humankind, the remaining crew of spacecraft “Ark One” fights to survive after a catastrophic event causes massive destruction and loss of life-sustaining supplies.
Creators: Suri Gopalan, Abheek Barua. Director: Abhinay Deo
With Karisma Kapoor, Surya Sharma, Soni Razdan
Production company: Zee Studios
World Sales: Zee Studios
Rita Brown, a suicidal alcoholic, and Arjun Sinha a widower with survivor’s guilt, must push their personal demons aside to find a serial killer whose belief in his divine purpose makes him unstoppable.
Cuba Libre, Portugal
Creator: Henrique Oliveira. Showrunner: Henrique Oliveira. Director: Henrique Oliveira
With Beatrix Godhino, Pierre Kiwitt, Margarida Marinho
Production company: Hop! Films
World Sales: Keshet International
Set against the political backdrop of the Cold War, this is the extraordinary true story of Ana Maria Silva Pais, a young Portuguese woman who gave everything to the Cuban revolution and Che Guevara, including herself.
Donkerbos, South Africa
Creator: Nico Scheepers. Director: Nico Scheepers
With Erica Wessels, Wilhelm van der Walt, Thoko Ntshinga
Production company: Nagvlug Films
World Sales: Multichoice
A child’s severed head is discovered in the forests outside the town of Donkerbos, throwing the local police department into disarray. Leading the investigation is Detective Fanie van Wyk, who fled Pretoria three years ago following a traumatic murder investigation.
Handen på Hjärtat (Out of Touch), Sweden
Creator: Mikael Ljung. Showrunners: Lina Åström, Marja Nyberg. Director: Lina Åström
With Sara Shirpey, Hannes Fohlin
Production company: Breakable Films
Broadcaster: C More
World Sales: REinvent International Sales
Emma is a successful couples therapist. Her on-point relationship-advice, however, comes not from her education, but a supernatural talent. Emma herself has sworn off love long ago – until she meets John.
Kuppel 16 (Dome 16), Norway
Creator: Thomas Seeberg Torjussen, Director: Thomas Seeberg Torjussen
With Johannes Blumenthal, Flo Fagerli, Edith Haagenrud-Sande
Production company: Tordenfilm Norway
World Sales: Global Screen
120 years from now, Anton and Emma, both 14, live in different climate zones within the same city. They were never supposed to meet, and certainly not to fall in love. But when they do, they must turn both of their worlds to be together.
Nordland 99, Denmark
Creator: Kasper Møller Rask. Showrunners: Iben Søtang, Anni Faurbye Fernandez. Director: Kasper Møller Rask
with Elias Budde Christensen, Emilie Kroyer Koppel, Troels Lyby
Production company: Nevis Productions
World Sales: DR Sales
When a young man disappears without a trace in 1999, his friends and sister fear something is wrong, and their search for him reveals terrifying secrets about the small town where they live.
Pad (The Fall), Serbia
Based on the autobiographical book by Žarko Laušević. Director: Bojan Vuletić
With Milan Marić, Andjela Jovanović, Milica Janevski
Production Company: Firefly Productions
Broadcaster: Superstar TV
World Sales: Firefly Productions
Having become the culprit of a double homicide, a popular actor ends up in a notorious prison where rules apply, extremely different to those in ‘”the outside world”.
Poemas Malditos (Cursed Poems), Chile
Creators: Paula del Fierro, Enrique Videla, Miguel Angel Rodríguez. Showrunner: Juan Ignacio Sabatini. Directors: Pepa San Martin, Juan Ignacio Sabatini
With Paula Luchsinguer, Consuelo Carreño, Gonzalo Valenzuela
Production company: Villano
World Sales: Mega Global Entertainment
A woman persecuted for witchcraft, a young woman possessed by the devil, two women living a secret love, a tormented man who starts a massacre. Four stories that intersect in an electrifying period thriller.
Schnee (Snow). Austria, Germany
Creator: Michaela Taschek. Presented by: Barbara Albert. Directors: Catalina Molina, Esther Rauch
With Brigitte Hobmeier, Robert Stadlober, Marie-Luise Stockinger
Production companies: Primary Pictures in co-production with X-Filme Production, in collaboration with Beta Film and Mestiere Cinema, in co-production with ORF, BR, NDR in collaboration with ARTE.
Broadcaster: ORF, BR, NDR, ARTE
World Sales: Beta Film
A mystery thriller set in the age of the climate crisis with a terrifying scenario at its core: What if nature finally demands the respect it is owed? To save her daughter, a mother must leave her rational world views behind.
Creator: Asaph Polonsky. Showrunners: Amit Cohen, Ron Leshem. Director: Asaph Polonsky
With Lior Ashkenazi, Or Zehavi, Niv Sultan
Production company: WestEnd Films
World Sales: WestEnd Films
From the writers of Euphoria and False Flag comes a new thriller series. When a flight from Tel Aviv to India vanishes in mid-air, a blind intelligence officer is brought in to investigate, as his family is among the plane’s passengers.
Trolių ferma (Troll Farm), Lithuania
Creators: Domantė Urmonaitė, Martynas Mendelis, Gabija Siurbytė, Ernestas Jankauskas. Showrunner: Gabija Siurbytė. Director: Ernestas Jankauskas
With Gabija Siurbytė, Valentinas Krulikovskis, Andrius Paulavičius
Production company: Dansu Films
Broadcaster: Lithuanian National Television and Radio, TeliaPlay+
World Sales: Dansu Films
After being wrongly fired, corporate diva Ana struggles to clear her name, while slowly embracing the dark side of revenge and becoming the monster she’s fighting.
The Way Home, USA, Canada
Creators: Marly Reed, Heather Conkie, Alexandra Clarke. Showrunners: Heather Conkie, Alexandra Clarke. Directors: Grant Harvey, Nimisha Mukerji, Shamim Sharif, Norma Bailey
With Chyler Leigh, Sadie Laflamme-Snow, Andie MacDowell
Production Companies: Hallmark Media, Neshama Entertainment in association with MarVista Entertainment
Broadcaster: Hallmark Channel
World Sales: Hallmark Media
A family drama with a time travel twist, The Way Home follows three generations of Landry women as they reunite and begin to heal from their family’s mysterious past when their youngest member finds herself on an unexpected journey.
Zwei Seiten des Abgrunds (Two Sides of the Abyss), Germany
Creator: Kristin Derfler. Director: Anno Saul
With Anne Ratte Polle, Anton Dreger, Lea van Acken
Production Company: Warner Bros. ITVP Germany
Broadcaster: RTL+, Warner TV Serie, HBOmax
When the young man who murdered her daughter is released from prison after just six years, police officer Luise Berg sets in motion a chain of events, which puts her and her other daughter on course for an inevitable catastrophe.
Projects Selected for Co-Pro Series 2023
(in alphabetical order of the production companies presenting them):
The Island (Writer: Nick Osborne; Director: tba), Black Camel Pictures & All3Media International, United Kingdom
Totonero (Creator/Director: Emanuele Scaringi), Fandango, Italy
Export Only (Creator/Director: Cristina Iliescu), microFILM, Romania
Decibel (Creator/Writer: Nicolás Britos; Director: Pablo Agüero), Mil Monos, Argentina
Earthbound (Writer: Harris Goldberg; Director: tba), Pixcom, Canada & ZDF Studios, Germany
My First Family (Creators/Head Writers: Maya Zaydman & Ori Sivan; Director: Randa Chahoud), Razor Film Produktion, Germany
Tipping Point (Head Writer: Brendan Foley; Director: AJ Annila), ReelMedia, Finland & Maipo Film, Norway
The Acid Clinic (Creator: Jens Dahl; Writers: Jens Dahl, Dorte Warnøe Høgh & Adam August; Director: tba), SAM Productions & Asta Film, Denmark
The Chauffeur’s Son (Creators: Isaki Lacuesta, Isabel Campo & Cristóbal Garrido; Director: Isaki Lacuesta), Zeta Studios, Spain
Project in partnership with Series Mania:
Family Stories: A Boy Disappears (Creator: Julie Budtz Sørensen; Director: tba), Nimbus Film, Denmark
Best of Variety