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SERIES / REVIEWS Croatia / Ukraine / Russia

Series review: The Silence

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- The new series from Drugi Plan and director Dalibor Matanić is an accomplished procedural based on the real-life case of a sex trafficking chain that extends from Ukraine to Croatia

Series review: The Silence

After 2016's The Paper, the first Croatian series sold to Netflix, the Zagreb-based Drugi plan reteams with director Dalibor Matanić for The Silence, which starts streaming on HBO Max on 12 April. The Paper was set in Rijeka and The Silence also stays away from Zagreb, setting its whodunnit/sex-trafficking story in Osijek in the east of the country. It is based on a real case described in a trilogy of novels by investigative journalist Drago Hedl, with the script written by Marjan Alčevski.

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Osijek, in the flatlands of Slavonia on the wide river Drava, is not exactly a small town, but life in it is slow and sleepy. Something dark lurks below: it was the setting of one of the most notorious war crimes of the 1990s. Beautiful nature, communist-era apartment blocks and decrepit country-style houses, along with remnants of old industry and new construction sites, make for a perfect location for the show that echoes the bizarre darkness of the first season of True Detective. But the story is much more topical, and gains extra weight in the light of the war in Ukraine, with its other, parallel story taking place in Kyiv.

The series opens with PTSD-addled veteran Igor (a wonderful Zlatko Burić) discovering the body of a young girl in the Drava, barely hidden near the riverside promenade. Soon detectives Kovač (Darko Milas) and Horak (Sandra Lončarić) arrive to the scene and arrest him. Immediately we also meet craggy reporter Stribor (Goran Bogdan) and his pregnant wife Lana (Tihana Lazović). 

Stribor is invited by politician Horvatinčić (Leon Lučev), up for mayor in upcoming elections, to ghost-write his autobiography. The journalist declines, just like he refuses to write about Igor being the murderer for his local editor, and instead offers to cover the case for a big paper in Zagreb. When he finds the cell phone of the murdered girl, he opens the door for an uneasy collaboration with the detectives that will be the backbone of the investigation.

Very soon, another girl is found dead. The first death seems to be a suicide, but the second one is an obvious overdose: the teen is found with a needle in her arm. The strangest thing is that no one in town seems to know who the girls were.

In Kyiv, a great contrast to Osijek with its shiny skyscrapers and night clubs, Olga Romanchenko (a dedicated Kseniya Mishina) runs a humanitarian foundation and the script positions her as an ambitious woman with a strong sense of justice. Her niece has gone missing, which we learn from her FaceTime conversation with her husband - Horvatinčić himself. In this corruption-ridden society, she investigates with help from her Afghan vet security officer.

It is easy to sympathise with the two detectives, with their small-town mentality and sometimes ham-handed methods. Even more likeable are Stribor and Lana: Bogdan and Lazović have great chemistry, and if the latter is underused, we have reasons to expect her to feature more prominently in seasons 2 and 3.

The investigation is complicated by a powerful, shifty businessman closely related to Horvatinčić, as well as the stubborn police chief's attempts at diplomacy. Even if the politician's sleaziness marks him as a suspect from the get-go, Lučev's tremendous performance and his relationship with no-nonsense Olga often make us wonder if our instincts are right.

Alčevski plays with such ambiguities and crime show stereotypes to a very satisfying effect. The procedural part is genuinely bumpy as opposed to similar shows' slick, urban detective work. Similarly, the existential angst of characters from such series is replaced by the dismal, down-to-earth realities of life in Eastern Europe.

The Silence is a co-production between Croatia's Drugi plan and HRT, Ukraine's OLL.TV and Russia's Star Media. Germany's Beta Film handles the international rights.

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