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Saturday, April 26, 2014

DVD Review - International Mystery Series Part 1 - Crimes Stories

By Adam Ruhl

I spend a lot of time talking to anyone who will listen about movies and TV shows. Friends, Family, people on the street, I mean it when I say anyone. Often, I’m talking about entertainment not from this country. You would be amazed how many people’s eyes glaze over when the word ‘foreign’ comes into play. For some, they have a fixed mental image of foreign films; black and white, artsy, boring. Others have no patience for subtitles, if they wanted to read they’d get a book.

If you've read any of my postings you know that I love international cinema. Many of my reviews on PCB are devoted to films from other nations. I’m delighted at how much more material is being released in the US these days.

MHZ Home Entertainment has gone one better. They are releasing wonderful international television shows on DVD in America. They most recently have released ‘The Spider’ from Denmark, and ‘Crime Stories’ and ‘Kennedy’s Brain’ from Germany. I’ll be reviewing all three over the coming weeks starting today with Crime Stories.

Crime Stories

Crime Stories is a six part mini-series based on the collection of short stories called simply ‘Crime’ (or Verbrechen) by Ferdinand von Schirach. Reading the back of the box I thought I knew everything that was going to happen in this series. On the surface, its description, a lawyer defending clients from a variety of charges, sounds just like any American court procedural. However, when I watched the series I was blown away by an incredibly unique show that left me guessing what would happen next.

The show is set around defense lawyer Friedrich Leonhardt (Josef Bierbichler) as he meets with clients. He actually has relatively little screen time in the series and is more of a connecting thread in the episodes than a main character. That’s part of what’s so fresh here is that there is no familiar formula to be found. Completely missing is the standard walk of the accused through red herrings towards final judgment. Gone is the concept that good guys are all good and bad guys are all bad and bad is always punished.

Instead we feel like we are walking with the characters through their lives. We see the back-story and lead up to the crimes. They are complex personalities and we can understand their motivations. This raises an element of ‘what punishment actually fits this crime?’ that I found particularly thought provoking.
The stories are character driven and without the familiar three-act layout Crime Stories can feel light on plot. This turns out to be a very good thing; this is a show where anything can happen and I found it very difficult to guess what was next.

The cinematography is first class and the editing has all the modern quick cuts and jump aways. The show is from Germany so there’s also a bit more nudity than an American non-cable household is used to. There’s also a curious recurring theme about apples. It’s on the cover and they make an appearance in each episode but if there was an explanation I must have missed it.

The set itself comes on three discs in a standard DVD case, no other bonus features on the disc. There are only English subtitles, they’re burned into the image and cannot be turned off. I really wish MHZ would put this out on Blu-ray because its available that way in Germany and its clearly filmed in Hi-Def. In spite of the slim disc offerings, Crime Stories is an amazing piece of work worth checking out.

Crime Stories is available right now on Amazon.

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