US-based Euro TV fans now have an Austrian psychodrama/mystery film series to binge-watch: Anatomy of Evil, starring the multiple-award winning German actor Heino Ferch.
I’ve finally met a character more morose than Kurt Wallander.
He is Richard Brock — played by International Emmy® nominee and seven-time award winner Heino Ferch (Downfall, The Tunnel, Run Lola Run) — a former practicing psychiatrist turned university lecturer and police criminal psychologist based in Vienna, Austria.
Brock stopped seeing patients years ago, owing to his wife’s suicide following his advice that she stop taking her meds. His grief and guilt make him as damaged as, say, the titular criminal profiler in the Swedish mystery series Sebastian Bergman, who lost his wife and young daughter during the 2004 tsunami. (By comparison, Wallander is a wounded divorcé, not a widower, whose adult daughter is still very much alive in the final Swedish series.)
All three men are loners who self-medicate their pain with alcohol, but Brock goes one better, as it were, by smoking weed. If there’s a ray of hope, it’s that Brock is reconnecting with his estranged daughter Petra (Sabrina Reiter, Dead in 3 Days), a recent graduate of the police academy who is not unlike Linda Wallander in Season 1 of the Swedish Wallander.
Unlike Bergman and Wallander, Brock is neither sexually promiscuous (he’s picky) nor a dog owner. Rather, the constants in his life are his young-ish and motherly housekeeper Mrs. Anni (Gerda Drabek, Tatort), friend Klaus Tauber (Gerhard Liebmann, Lourdes), the owner of Kaffee Urania, where he takes all of his meals, and his nightly joint and whiskey.
For as glum, emotionally closed off, and difficult to work with as he is, Brock is still the go-to guy for the Vienna Police when their cases require an ace interrogator, as he has a deep understanding of human behavior and interviews witnesses, suspects, and perpetrators from a more clinical, yet still compassionate (when appropriate), perspective.
As for the series, it consists of five made-for-TV noir movies that plumb the depths of human emotions and their consequences. Counterbalancing the greyness of Brock and the series’ mood are the characters of Mrs. Anni, who adds just enough levity to lighten things up and prevent depression setting in, and Klaus, whose generosity of spirit and faith in humankind offers glimpses of redemption.
Anatomy of Evil: The Interrogation (Spuren des Bösen: Das Verhör)
Winner: Best TV Movie, Cinematography, Screenplay, 2011 Romy Gala Awards, Austria
The police call Brock in to question a woman who saw the person who murdered her sister. Distressed, she can’t remember anything until Brock uses hypnotherapy to get her to reveal details about the assailant. His investigation leads him to believe the CEO of the corporation where the victim worked as an accountant had her offed to prevent her from testifying at the company’s embezzlement trial. But then several more killings occur, as does a smear campaign against Brock. When he figures out who the killer is, he could be a dead man, too.
Anatomy of Evil: Revenge (Spuren des Bösen: Racheengel)
Winner: Best TV Direction, Producer, 2013 Romy Gala Awards, Austria
What was supposed to be a simple arrest turns into a hostage situation, where Brock tries to calm the religious gunman without police involvement. He agrees to the man’s request right before the latter abruptly turns the gun on himself and dies. After learning of the charges against the victim, Brock begins delving into his history to figure out why the man took such desperate measures and comes to believe he was framed. Soon afterward, another man is killed and Brock’s interrogation of the murderer points to a heinous sin of the past. Except things weren’t and still aren’t what they appear to be.
Anatomy of Evil: Fear (Spuren des Bösen: Zauberberg)
Nominated: Heino Ferch, Best German Actor, 2015 Golden Camera Awards, Germany
The disappearance of a six-year-old girl prompts the local police in a small village in the mountains of Lower Austria to contact Brock for help. One of his former patients is the prime suspect, but after questioning him, Brock doesn’t think he abducted the child. When another person from Brock’s past shows up with an horrific ransom demand, and his strategy to get the girl released fails, finding her is a race against the clock in a matter of life and death… and more.
Anatomy of Evil: Shame (Spuren des Bösen: Schande)
A man blackmails Brock into giving him a private therapy session after Brock’s married neighbor and secret lover catches sight of him just before a fire erupts in the apartment next to hers. It turns out that the victim in the blaze was murdered and the fire was a cover-up. As Brock learns more about the extortionist and is obligated to keep the information confidential, he suspects the man of having committed homicide and arson. He also begins to realize something else, and unwittingly puts himself in mortal danger.
Anatomy of Evil: Love (Spuren des Bösen: Liebe)
An armed man, surrounded by police while holed up in a house with the dead body of his girlfriend, will speak only with Brock, an old friend. The cops suspect him of murder, but he claims he didn’t do it. Rather, he points Brock in the direction of the victim’s other lover, a wealthy resident of a commune where the code of conduct is forget love, have sex. Brock is surprised and befuddled when his friend later confesses to the murder while in custody, so he digs deeper into the lives of the young radicals and turns up a clue from the past.
Anatomy of Evil has been a huge hit with Austrian viewers and critics alike. I happen to like it a lot, too, in spite of the pervasive darkness. But this aspect, plus the talents of Heino Ferch, is what makes the series work. The gloom — from the storylines, settings, and characters, to the slow pace, minimalist music, and drably-colored wardrobes, right down to Brock’s grey overcoat — make tangible the shadow aspects of human nature. Rather than being depressing, this character-driven series is emotionally and psychologically haunting.
And it is intelligent and treats viewers as such. It’s one of the very few mystery series that incorporates tidbits about brain functions and the workings of the subconscious mind into the dialogue. There’s also the irony of a shrink who’d do well to seek help for his own issues but won’t get it.
Heino Ferch is terrific as the sullen, stone-faced Richard Brock (a tip of the hat to the make-up people, because Brock can even look grey sometimes), repressed to the point where even remembering to give his beloved daughter a peck on the cheek requires effort. His low, monotone voice recalls someone who’s flatlined, unlike his livelier self when he’s high as a kite. In the last two films, chinks in Brock’s armor begin to emerge. And when a hint of a smile appears on his face, well, knock me over with a feather. The man is downright sexy and oh so magnetic in those moments.
Anatomy of Evil is a production of Österreichischer Rundfunk (ORF), Zweites Deutsches Fernsehen (ZDF), and Josef Aichholzer Filmproduktion (AIFilm), as well as ARTE for the second film.
All five films in the Anatomy of Evil series, shown in German with English subtitles, are now streaming in the US at MHz Choice.
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