“Verbrechen” is German for “Crime Stories”. Famous lawyer turned author Ferdinand von Shirach has penned the short stories of the real life crime cases he was prosecuted to great acclaim in Germany and now they exist as a hit TV series. And a six-episode DVD set of three discs by MHz.
You have to be in a really blood-thirsty mood to enjoy these six grisly, but good episodes, which vary wildly in quality.
Josef Bierbichler plays Friedrich Lionhardt with a stoicism that makes his French counterpart Inspector Maigret seem absolutely flamboyant in comparison. Bierbichler is a focused mountain of a man best known in the US for his role as the sadistic Steward in Michael Hanneke’s frightening thriller “The White Ribbon.” With a voice like thunder, when roused, his intelligent, omniscient eyes see through all comers.
I was really gripped by Episode 1, wherein a mild-mannered husband Friedrich (everybody seems to be named Friedrich in this series)Fahner finally turns on his vicious wife Ingrid played with memorable relish by Annette Paulman, and murders her with his gardening tools. Based on, as I noted, a true story, you totally root for Friedrich to get off.
This is a neat reversal of the battered wife story, and in this case,it’s the long-suffering husband who is constantly brow-beaten, insulted and humiliated by his overbearing, vulgar wife. They are first shown as a deliriously in love young couple. As newlyweds, there seems nary a cloud on the horizon, and Ingrid is charming and sexy as a young girl.
But over the years, she has turned into a harridan he hardly recognizes, and can barely stand. Now 60, Friedrich maintains he has married her. He’s her husband and feels he cannot violate his marriage vows to her. So he kills her. German logic.
And Friedrich Leonhardt( Von Shirach’s alter ego) enters the scene as Friedrich Fahner’s defense lawyer determined to get him off. For as he states over and over, “a lawyer does not always want to know what really happened.” It is his job to get his clients freed and he pursues this goal with a single-minded intensity that powers each 44 minutes episode. It’s not a whodunit at all, but the suspense is always “Will Leonhardt prevail and get his client off?” which is an interesting twist in this overworked genre. A character describes Leonhardt as “the brakes on the carts on justice.”
Leonhardt doesn’t feel he has to like or even understand his clients, which are as varied as Germany is today.
Ripped from the headlines, “Crime Stories” when it works is riveting. I also particularly liked Episode 3 where Phillip Von Nordicke, a young student played with a burning intensity by Vladimir Burlakov, kills, blinds, and dismembers sheep. Stabbing each “victim” 18 times in a signature way that the local Polizei immediately know it’s him. But can you imprison someone for simply killing sheep argues Leonhardt. Then a young girl goes missing and of course, the young Phillip is the lost likely suspect. So in jail he stays, until Leonhardt enters the scene.
Some episodes don’t work at all and are merely confusing like Episode 2 “Tanaka’s Bowl.” But when it works, it really really works and loving crime stories and murder mysteries and film noir as you know I do, these German ones are a dark treat.