The Channel 4 streaming service Walter Presents has announced a summer of Eastern European crime shows for the UK, starting with Four Strangers which will give us our first ever look at crime drama from Croatia. Episodes will be available to stream on Walter Presents from Friday 15 July, and the first episode will be broadcast on Channel 4 at 11pm on Sunday 17 July.
It’s worth tuning in. There’s a wonderful set-up, great acting and a pacy storyline here. Plus, it gives us a window on a culture and society quite different to what we’re used to. Crime is the same pretty much everywhere, but how people deal with a moral conundrum varies quite a bit.
As the title suggests, Four Strangers is literally about four strangers, whom we meet in the first episode via a series of loosely connected vignettes. Let’s cycle through them…
First there’s Blanka (Tara Thaller), a 17-year-old high school student with an abusive boyfriend called Victor, and a father who is nearly as bad. After catching Victor with another girl, Blanka is beaten, stripped and locked in a storage room. She manages to steal some clothes and break out, taking Victor’s camera in the process. When she gets home, her father beats her as well.
Another main female character, Vinka (Iva Mihalic), also faces shocking, unprovoked violence. She’s a bank clerk, newly promoted to dealing with mortgages. Driving her daughter to school before going to work, she’s caught in a traffic jam. A car hits her from behind and she gets out. Suddenly, a bald man beats her to a pulp, sending her to hospital. He just walks away, abandoning her and his car.
Watching from another car is Kiki (Toni Gojanovic), an unemployed man taking his son to school. He’s got a meeting at the bank to extend his mortgage while he’s not working and doesn’t intervene in the assault because he doesn’t want to be late. Unbeknownst to him, Vinka is whom he’s supposed to meet. That doesn’t happen because she’s in accident and emergency, but Kiki’s son now thinks him a coward.
The crazy dials up even further when we meet the architect, Haris (Uliks Fehmiu), designer of high-rise buildings all over Zagreb. Just before a presentation with a major developer, he completely destroys his team’s boards and plans. Haris has finally realised that the buildings he creates are nothing more than money laundering scams. But that puts him in the firing line of the mobbed-up developer who employs him.
Blanka, Vinka, Kiki and Haris don’t know each other but they all live and/or work in the same area of Zagreb and there are six-degrees-of-separation style connections between them. When Vinka returns home, a dead rat has been left on the mat. At the same time Kiki steps out, feeling the need to prove himself to his son, Haris is passing by and Blanka is going on the run. Then a violent encounter occurs in the precinct that will tie them together for good.
They walk away vowing never to speak to each other again, but this is a crime show and you just know they’ll be pulled right back into the maelstrom. Something even bigger has been cracked open and revenge is only the start of what happens next. As the episodes unfold, Inspector Kalić (Marija Skaricic) looks at the clues from the scene and begins putting things together.
There’s an eye-watering amount of sexism and misogyny in Four Strangers. It’s not just Blanka’s violent boyfriend and father who are the source. Vinka’s husband is unsympathetic, controlling and puts the blame for the attack on her. However, he may have been the target – working as a city planner, he has a say in the major developments Haris’s clients apply for.
There is a feeling that some of the male belligerents will get their comeuppance. Vinka is clearly a lot more intelligent than her husband and Kalić, the detective, is a woman used to finding ways around chauvinism.
What we see of Zagreb hints at its Communist past. There’s a grey line between the criminals and the city officials. Corruption festers and buildings go up but few benefit. The estate where most of the characters are based might not be Soviet era, but it feels that way. The apartments are cramped, the buildings characterless and functional, and the views drab.
Made by HBO Europe, the programme may not have had a massive budget but it is well directed, well acted, moves at pace and every scene takes hold. You won’t know quite what’s going on until the end of the first episode, but you can’t look away either as the tension and expectation of violence ramps up.
There are six 45-minute episodes to watch, and the programme was originally called Uspjeh (Success) when it aired in Croatia in 2019. In the US, Four Strangers uses its original title and readers can watch Success on Amazon Prime.