Style, duty and nostalgia

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As I sit at my desk writing this article I’m listening to the Top Gun soundtrack. While Kenny Loggins’ ‘Danger Zone’ blasts out of my speakers I’ve been thinking a lot about Deutschland 83. In fact, I’m waiting in gleeful anticipation for the next episode of Channel 4’s imported German spy thriller. The soundtrack, like the husband-and-wife-created drama, is a prime slice of nostalgia for a time in which I wasn’t born. And like all fiction, never truly existed. Film historians call it ‘postmodern nostalgia,’ the longing for a time or place which exists only in the embellished memory of the person who recalls it. From the moment the wonderful Jonas Nay trades his drab East German threads for his bright red Puma top and frighteningly high Levi’s, we’re transported into a vision of the colourful consumerist 1980s. A land of Reagan, New Order and Nena. But, Nay’s character, Martin, the undercover double- agent for the Stasi, doesn’t want the heights of capitalist perfection. By contrast, he longs to return to the world of secret-police and family which he inhabits in the East.

By no means is it a rehash of Goodbye Lenin, although East Germans themselves supposedly have this longing for their own wistful perspective of the DDR. If anything, it pricks the bubble of memory, with visual nostalgia masking the deep undercurrents of reality in an authoritarian state. Unlike Goodbye Lenin, this film shows the reality of communism’s grip on East Germany and the Cold War mentality of the West. While the undercover Martin draws the attention of his West Germam comrades for his old fashioned hardline opposition to communism.

Of course, given the subject matter, we see typical spy film tropes. Martin has his finger sprained by his superior while he falls unconscious from drugged coffee. He replaces a man who looks suspiciously like him. And he ventures into confidential files complete with microfilm under dramatic tension strong enough to make you wince. These might be old-hate clichés, but they’re pulled off brilliantly, with warmth and a dash of wry self-aware humour.

More than that, they’re pulled off in a programme that breaks a recent cliché. The moral ambiguity that has garnered the great acclaim of recent American hits like Breaking Bad, House of Cards and even Suits is out of the window. We’ve seen Saga Noren’s rigid sense of pride in lawful justice and procedure up to the very end in the Scandinoir behemoth The Bridge.

In Deustchland 83, we see a staunch commitment to duty, to one’s country and one’s family. Martin is a spy for both his mother, and his motherland. Just as his western general continues his weary commitment to his American allies despite his personal grievances for the safety of his home, the characters are, so far, following the rules. The question is will that last? Will duty triumph as the cold war heats up, or will the characters abandon their commitments? I can’t wait to find out.

Luckily, for me and for the growing audience for foreign-language television in the UK, it’s part of a new on-demand service from Channel 4. Labelled Walter Presents after its Italian commissioning editor, who supposedly sat down and watched hours upon hours of foreign television, it has a wealth of series too numerous to review. Some admittedly better than others. But who doesn’t look forward to a French-language comedy set in occupied post-9/11 Afghanistan? Okay, maybe not that example, but it’ll keep me going until the next episode in the series

Deutschland 83 is showing on Channel 4, Sun- days at 9pm, available to catch-up on All4

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