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Saturday, May 25, 2019


She isn't a super-cool superwoman who's flawless, infallible, and better at everything than all the guys, and it's this real-life human quality that helps make Sara Stein such a relatable and appealing character. 

Make no mistake, though--the intelligent and highly capable homicide detective at the center of this limited TV series and now 2-disc DVD set SARA STEIN: FROM BERLIN TO TEL AVIV (Film Movement, Omnibus Entertainment) is tough, smart, and likable enough to keep us keenly engaged throughout all four of her exciting feature-length investigations.

Katharina Lorenz is ideal in the title role, a fine, expressive actress who's just fit enough (Sara runs and bikes every day for exercise) and pretty enough to look like she didn't just get sent down from central casting. As capable as anyone on the force, she has nothing to prove yet sometimes makes mistakes so that even her admirable character is believably human.

We join the first adventure, "Shalom Berlin, Shalom Tel Aviv", with her already an established member of the Berlin homicide squad who happens to come upon the tail end of a violent knife attack in a nightclub parking lot while out on a night jog.

The crime scene is dotted with mysterious little clues which we'll get to watch Sara and her coworkers painstakingly sort out as one revelation leads to yet another and another in what is a typically twisted and unpredictable series of events.

The case involves an Israeli victim and a Palestinian suspect, in the first of several politically-tinged cases in which Sara is forced to contemplate her own Jewish heritage to which she has never paid much attention. Just when we think politics is the all-consuming motive, however, other elements take the plot in quite different and intriguing directions.

I found her eccentric coworkers and their quirks to be quite entertaining--Max (Aljoscha Stadelmann) is a cheerful nebbish without a lot of tact but an effective street style, and mousey Anne (Katharina M. Schubert) is a highly capable presence in the office but horribly agoraphobic when forced to join Sara in the field.

We also meet David, a famous pianist who forms a mutual admiration with Sara, her caring parents, and her troubled boss, Commissioner Schubert (Kirsten Block), a recent widow whose personal life has intersected badly with her professional one.

This last element becomes a constant in later episodes after Sara marries David and makes the move to his native Tel Aviv, joining the police force there.  A clash between the personal and the professional will add much emotional drama to Sara's life, beginning with the murder of her predecessor on the force in "Jewels From the Grave."

Here, we see the difficulty Sara has fitting in with her new cohorts, mostly street-hardened men like the burly Blok (Samuel Finzi) and imposing Commissioner Weissenberg (Ami Weinberg).  Thankfully, however, it isn't for the old cliched reasons of sexual prejudice but instead a fear that the eager new detective will uncover secrets about the victim and themselves which they would rather remain hidden.

After a very shaky start, Sara and Blok begin working together amidst a grudging mutual respect in the third feature, "Masada", when a beloved archeologist is killed in an explosion at the ancient site and the usual political suspects are rounded up even as suspicion begins to include members of his own family. 

This one is a puzzle that keeps the attention engaged along with some extremely painful personal revelations for Sara which, as usual, are played to perfection.

In her final adventure of the series, "Old Friends", Sara investigates the discovery of a severed hand on the beach and is drawn into a maelstrom of crime and deceit which, again, will directly involve her in scintillating fashion. 

Her husband David comes to the fore in this regard when he reveals some stunning secrets about his previous life in the military, with none other than Blok as his commanding officer.  And as always, the callow but earnest young upstart Corporal Hanan Chalabi (Bat-Elle Mashian) comes up with surprisingly clever deductions at the most unexpected times.

Each razor-sharp screenplay is stunningly photographed (especially after the move to Israel) and filmed with great verve and energy by prolific TV director Matthias Tiefenbacher, who achieves a gritty, kinetic style without resorting to constant shaky-cam.  Music, editing, and other production elements are first rate.

The four episodes of SARA STEIN: FROM BERLIN TO TEL AVIV deftly combine riveting, realistic personal drama with the finest elements of the police procedural amidst the volatile politics and religious strife of the Middle East. Stripped of the usual bombast and empty sensation, we're left with purely intelligent, thoughtful, and consistently fascinating forays into the life of a richly interesting character.

Order it from Film Movement

Release date: June 4, 2019

Format: NTSC, Subtitled
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
Number of discs: 2
Languages: German, Hebrew, Arabic
Subtitles: English
Studio: Omnibus Entertainment
DVD Release Date: June 4, 2019
Run Time: 360 minutes


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