BERLIN. Is it fashionable to be thieves today? [REVIEW]

The audience loves series that are symbols of resistance against authority.

Odys Korczyński

30 December 2023

The audience loves series that have the potential to become global symbols of resistance against, for example, a power that ironically holds too much power within a democracy. Politically, it may not make much sense, but it functions as a kind of intra-democratic safety valve to prevent democracy from turning into autocracy. It usually works… “Money Heist” turned out to be a phenomenon in this regard, with the character of Berlin. Salvador Dali’s mask became a pop-cultural symbol of rebellion, clearly drawing inspiration from another mask tradition – Anonymous, or Guy Fawkes, popularized by Alan Moore and David Lloyd in “V for Vendetta.” The commercial success of “Money Heist” was thus assured, with a bit of luck, financial support, and good execution. Riding on this success, Álex Pina and the team took a risk and released another project – “Berlin.” It smells a bit like capitalizing on the original, but fans will surely appreciate the presence of the titular Berlin (Pedro Alonso). But is it enough? Does building a universe through prequels/spin-offs in series make sense in European cinema?

Pedro Alonso, playing Berlin, possesses excellent charisma. He is dignified yet casual, menacing yet loving, and on top of that, superheroic, but filled to the brim with pettiness and human weaknesses, especially towards women. I recommend his unforgettable expression when, dressed in a tuxedo, he steps out of a taxi and stands in front of a venue with the grateful name “Opera.” Then he realizes that he was deceived by a beautiful woman who supposedly took him to the “opera,” and he thought conventionally, dressing up in a tuxedo instead of boots and studs. But what one doesn’t do for women, especially after the third divorce. What one shouldn’t do in such a situation, especially when being the leader of a criminal group posing as a model of classic male virtues, topped with a top hat and cane.

In terms of satire, “Berlin” is a well-executed series that captivates and is downright addictive. You watch episode after episode, and time passes as if it weren’t flowing. The creators of “Money Heist” had the foresight to make a series prequel and chose Berlin as the main character. However, they overshot a bit with the introduction. They didn’t have to explain to the audience so explicitly that the series depicts Berlin’s story before the famous events in the Spanish national mint, where Berlin was grounded for some time. Then there was the presentation of the group members, which also smacks of the worst practices used by Guy Ritchie. However, subsequent episodes are much more consistent, although not without action mishaps, theatrical artificiality, and unjustified disruptions in the narrative rhythm when the dialogues drag on mercilessly. Undoubtedly, Berlin has a unique style that positively affects the viewer’s senses, even if we realize how much the romanticization of being a criminal is morally weak.

Similar to “Money Heist,” the team assembled by Berlin is really cool. They just steal. Moreover, they steal from the rich, but the fact that innocent people may suffer, as shown in the series, doesn’t matter. Such anti-system sentiment is fashionable today. The young are fascinated by it, although it’s a shortcut, and no series, film, or “smart” and seemingly subversive YouTube video will show them all the consequences of entering the supposedly exciting, creative, socially positive, and generally cool path of being a criminal. Only in movies does it seem that being a thief is such a fascinating, creative, socially positive, and generally cool profession. In the real world, it’s entirely different, and the fact that I have to write about it is evidence of how much breaking the law in cinema has been mythologized, romanticized, and axiologically trivialized. I’m not talking about a moral revolution, where suddenly criminals became positive heroes, but about the specific portrayal of being, for example, a thief. Allegedly, it can be done with culture, positivity, and, moreover, resist capitalist and corporate hegemony, a global conspiracy of big finance. Only a pro-social revolution can liberate us from it.

In Berlin, it’s no different. Thieves and theft seem quite cool. Fortunately, this political, anti-system tone is not as strong as in “Money Heist.” As a result, the series is much lighter, more engaging because it includes elements of comedy and romance, rather than being a treatise like “V for Vendetta.” The characters reflect both on the mechanics of the planned heist and their personal problems, including Berlin’s relationships with women. The lively action combines with excellent cinematography and meticulously prepared set design. The sociocultural inserts don’t tire; they don’t distract from the multi-aspect story of the heist, as they are well integrated into the main plot, deepening our knowledge of the characters. The age category is set relatively high for current times, which somewhat explains the creators’ approach to the thieving profession. The problem is that those interested in its romanticized version will likely be older viewers, not 12-year-old children.

Answering the question posed at the beginning, whether building universes based on serial prequel/spin-off versions makes sense in European cinema – if it is done on such qualitative principles as in the case of “Berlin,” then absolutely. The story in Berlin is told with respect to the original, drawing from it but not copying it. Even the approach to pro-revolutionary ideology is different from “Money Heist.” Berlin doesn’t pose as a cult series but as entertaining, so it has a chance to be iconic – or would have had, if “Money Heist” hadn’t achieved that status first. So, the chance has been lost, and we shouldn’t really regret it. Berlin has been saved for the joy of viewers.

Odys Korczyński

Odys Korczyński

For years he has been passionate about computer games, in particular RPG productions, film, medicine, religious studies, psychoanalysis, artificial intelligence, physics, bioethics, as well as audiovisual media. He considers the story of a film to be a means and a pretext to talk about human culture in general, whose cinematography is one of many splinters.

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