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Series review: Disko 76


- The German mini-series created by Benjamin Benedict, Linda Brieda, Lars Montag and Sinah Swyter emits a real feel-good vibe, drawing on the codes of sitcom and nostalgic, retro charm

Series review: Disko 76
Jannik Schümann and Luise Aschenbrenner in Disko 76

Retro did well for itself at Series Mania this year, by way of winning titles such as Rematch and Soviet Jeans [+see also:
series review
series profile
which invited the audience to travel back in time by thirty to forty-five years. Presented in a world premiere within a Special Screening, Disko 76 - a German mini-series in six episodes, directed by Florian Knittel and Lars Montag - likewise delighted the audience, who lightly tapped their feet throughout the entire series screening.

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It all begins with an invitation. The camera travels across the crowd in a nightclub and sees a dancer, sparkling from head to toe, hold out his hand to the film’s heroine, Doro (Luise Aschenbrenner), whose tells us by way of a voiceover that: “Life is like a disco. Either you look the other way, or you throw yourself onto the dancefloor”. The heady and intoxicating sounds of Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’ fulfils the mission of mass seduction. People are clearly there to have fun, though our characters have a way to go yet!

Welcome to Bochum, located within the industrial region of the Ruhr. Despite having access to western culture, this small mining town in the FRG is far too traditional to embrace the winds of freedom carried by disco music. That’s definitely the case for Doro’s family, where lies are a viable defence against paternalism. Doro pretends to her fool of a husband - who has decided to stop her from working to make it easier to procreate – that she has just become pregnant. Her brother Georg (Jonas Holdenrieder) hides the fact he’s deserted the army by telling his parents he’s on leave. And her sister Johanna (Vanessa Loibl) dreams of becoming  a pilot but, after being rejected because of her sex, she determines to gain access to the cockpit by infiltrating an air hostess training course.

Frustrated but tightly knit, these joyful siblings decide to channel their vexation into a single project: opening an illegal nightclub in their family’s old inn.

Despite the series’ wild playlist, its varied decor and its smooth camera movements, Disko 76 might surprise audiences for the relative simplicity of its story. The characters are fairly cliché and their trajectories totally predictable, like that of Doro’s husband, who’s such a simpleton he can’t not be dumped by the end of the final episode. Once past this strange initial impression, Disko 76 quickly quashes any expectations of nuance and reveals its true colours: a luxury sitcom. A sitcom without canned laughter and with just the one camera, sure, but one which respects many sitcom codes: a clear storyline and inevitably positive outcomes (Doro will obviously throw herself onto the dancefloor arm in arm with the sparkling man), one main, central location where the characters can come together (the illegal nightclub), a dysfunctional family who get together far more often than is healthy, and surreal, visual gags along the lines of Scrubs or Ally McBeal, which break up the story at regular intervals.

Throw in the additional bonus of retro charm, and Disko 76 imposes itself as a mainstream series with high economic potential. The series’ confident producers have clearly opened the budget floodgates, because each and every episode is jam-packed with crowd-pleasing tunes: Boney M, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, ABBA, Barry White, Munich Machine… they’re all there to punctuate our pleasure. The dazzling costumes, voluminous hairstyles and perfectly charming cast are well worth a mention too.

A resolutely feel-good work, Disko 76 (produced by UFA Fiction and broadcast by RTL+) doesn’t set out to reinvent a thing, but it does offer up an addictive, general-interest series which packs a real punch. And given its numeric title, we might even ask ourselves whether the sequins will be dusted off at a later point for future mini-series, in the vein of German trilogies like Deutschland 83, 86 and 89, or Ku’damm 56, 59 and 63. The potential for sequels is blatant. “You ain’t seen nothing yet”, the Bachman Turner Overdrive group warns us in the closing song of the second episode… There’s no limit to our expectations!

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(Translated from French)

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