Oscar-nominated “City of God” DoP Cesar Charlone, who went on to direct “3%,” South America’s first Netflix series, is set to co-direct and serve as cinematographer on “Graf Spee,” a six-part human drama evolving during the most memorable of World War II naval battles, the Battle of the River Plate.
Based on real events and taking place over what its producers describe as “seven days of honor, love and hell,” “Graf Spee” will be one of 12 scripted series projects pitched in the main CoPro Series category at the 4th Conecta Fiction, the Europe-Latin America TV co-production set to take place over Sept. 2-3 in Pamplona, Spain.
Charlone, whose cinematography credits also take in Fernando Meirelles’ “The Constant Gardener,” “Blindness” and “The Two Popes,” will direct the first three episodes of “Graf Spee.” Directing the remainder is Andrés Varela, CEO of Uruguay’s Coral Cine, producers of “Graf Spee” with Gretha Media, and director of doc feature hit “Maracana.”
Varela relishes big events, directing the “Champion of the Century Stadium” show which inaugurated the new soccer home of Uruguay’s Club Atlético Peñarol and “El Delirio,” a multidisciplinary spectacle performed before an 18,000 audience at Uruguay’s Centennial Stadium.
Few shows have come bigger, however, for Uruguay than the Battle of the River Plate, fought off its shores on Dec. 13, 1939.
It saw three British cruisers attack the pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee, the fastest and most modern ship in the German navy, which had inflicted insufferable damage in the Atlantic on Allied merchant ships since the outbreak of WWII.
The Graf Spee repelled the attack but, hit 70 times and running out of fuel, put in to port in nearby Montevideo, the capital of neutral Uruguay, unleashing a power battle between British and German diplomatic forces to decide which side could claim the battleship, which carried four German Enigma machines and code books. The series begins as the Graf Spee limps into Montevideo.
The producers are weighing how much archive material or VFX to use in flashbacks to the naval action, Varela said. The series, however, mixes historical research with a twisting espionage thriller narrative drive and a psychological study of characters, which underscores human complexity, said Varela.
Characters mix real life figures – Langsdorff, Eugen Millington-Drake, the British ambassador in Uruguay – with fictional creations such as Jewish nurse Sofía Rothman, who falls in love with a wounded German sailor, and Alvaro Iriarte, a Montevideo-based journalist.
None are more fascinating and contradictory than the figure of Langsdorff himself. “A man of honor, he respected the Hague Convention, evacuating the crews of merchant ships before sinking them, avoiding the loss of enemy life. He was a humane commander and German patriot who implicitly disobeys the German high command,” said Varela. His actions question, however, much humanity there can be in a successful warfare, and the price paid for such a sense of honor. “He is a Shakespearian tragic hero,” Varela said.
“Graf Spee” is based on an original idea by Uruguayan novelist and playwright Hugo Burel, whose “El Corredor nocturno” was adapted for the big screen by Gerardo Herrero.
Coral Cine aims to put together a writer’s room of one writer from Uruguay, another from Spain, and a third from Germany, said Varela.
“We need a German point of view, above all to construct the character of Langsdorff, which is vital,” he added.
The series is produced by Coral Cine’s co-founder Sebastián Bednarik, Ana Inés Bistiancic and GrethaMedia’s Jackie Bourdette.
As a director, Charlone won the top prize at San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos in 2007 with his feature debut, “The Pope’s Toilet.” Varela’s credits as a director at Coral Cine also include Uruguayan TV series “Bolinches, el corazón del barrio,” which ran for five seasons.