Berlinale Series Announces HBO Max’s Spy/Master,’ Disney+’s ‘The Good Mothers,’ India’s ‘Dahaad’

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,” “Agent,” Denmark’s answer to the French smash, and already announced big-budget eco-thriller “The Swarm” 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.

“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 co-wrote it,” 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,” another take on France’s phenomenon “Call My Agent!,” 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. 

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

Denmark 2023

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

Norway 2023

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

Australia 2023

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

India 2023

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:

1985

Belgium

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

Broadcaster: NBCUniversal

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.

Brown

India

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

Broadcaster: RTP

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

Broadcaster: Multichoice/Showmax

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

Broadcaster: NRK

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

Broadcaster: DR

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.

Traitor

Israel 

Creator: Asaph Polonsky 

Showrunners: Amit Cohen, Ron Leshem

Director: Asaph Polonsky

with Lior Ashkenazi, Or Zehavi, Niv Sultan

Production company: WestEnd Films

Broadcaster: HOT

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.

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