seductive and deadly
“What a breath of fresh air! With suspense but also very funny, “Stephen King said last summer on Twitter about the German soap opera ‘kleo‘. As the summer holidays – with their infinite temptations – are not exactly conducive to binge-watching, I put the recommendation on my list of pending viewings for the cold months. And the time came this week.
‘Kleo’, of which what is necessary has already been told in THE OBJECTIVE In a notable article signed by television fiction expert Jován Pulgarín, it is the story of a secret agent with all the elements to please that this subgenre of espionage stories requires. Pure series B well invoiced and with the necessary doses of intrigue, violence and seduction. If you are a man, white, over 35 and absurdly straight, this is your series. “How can we not choose a spy series set in Berlin in 1987 and with a beautiful, blonde protagonist, who turns out to be an accomplished murderer with an angel face?”, ironized AJ Ussía in a recent report by The confidential.
Directed by Viviane Andereggen and Jano Ben Chaabane, this eight-episode production, which has become an international success and of which Netflix is already preparing the second season, has as its main character kleo straub (played by German actress Lelia Haase): A deadly Stasi enforcer whose usual missions are to cross to the other side of the Iron Curtain to neutralize some enemy of the GDR. Without intending to spoil them, the girl is betrayed by her family and we are going to spend the rest of the series witnessed his revenge and discovering the reason for that dirty maneuver. Good entertainment, with international conspiracy included, pop aesthetics and the fall of the Warsaw Pact in the background.
The least of it is, perhaps, the plot of entanglement and adventure through which the writers want to show us first the contrast between the two Germanys to later reveal to us that both regimes needed each other as their raison d’être against each other. What attracts me the most kleo it is the vindication and updating of that reviled subgenre that our colleague Pulgarín calls «women trained to kill», at a time when the gender perspective is drastically imposing itself in the analysis of the audiovisual spectacle. But perhaps we are going too fast.
To put ourselves in a situation, we will say that there have always been female spies. And some went down in recent history for their artistic talent and beauty, combining their careers with research work. Think of Mata Hari, Joséphine Baker, Coco Chanel, Nadezhda Plevítskaya, Marlene Dietrich or Aline Griffith, Countess of Romanones. Less glamorous, but equally effective, were many other agents who worked for both sides, such as Daphne Park, Noor Inayat Khan, Zoïa Voskressenskaya, Virginia Hall, Margarita Konionkova, Elizabeth Bentley or Elena Modrjinskaïa. Their fascinating lives have given rise to not a few biographical books or essays, highlighting those by Judy Batalion, Larry Loftis, Liza Mundy, Kate Quinn, Christine Wells or Ariel Lawhon, without forgetting the recent and highly recommended license to spy (2022) by Carmen Posadas.
The work of these flesh and blood spies used to be get information –with his social skills and his ability to seduce– and pass it on; when not to carry out small sabotage operations. some were imprisoned either tortured; others died for it. But very few killed, perhaps because they were not trained for it.
Spy stories, as we know them today, go hand in hand with the creation of the first news agencies. counterintelligence and propaganda Mid-nineteenth century. Hugo serious novelists who were interested in the subject, from Fenimore Cooper to Balzac, passing through Conrad, Kipling or Alexandre Dumas father, who created what is probably the first female spy in the modern novel: that ruthless Milady de Winter who drove people crazy. D’Artagnan and his companions in The Three Musketeers (1844).
Spy stories, as we know them today, go hand in hand with the creation of the first counterintelligence and propaganda agencies in the mid-19th century.
With the Cold War came the golden era of the genre thanks to authors like Graham Greene, John Le Carré or Ian Fleming, but except for the books by the latter, women played only a secondary role. It was the creator of James Bond who decided to pair his agent 007 with helpers or antagonists feminine who played to confuse the hero with his carnal dalliances. And many devoted moviegoers will remember a whole catalog of sophisticated Bond girls, each more attractive, who gave the franchise an undeniable sex appeal: from Ursulla Andress to Ana de Armas, not forgetting Britt Eckland, Barbara Bach, Corinne Cléry, Carole Bouquet, Denise Richards, Halle Berry, Evan Green, Monica Bellucci or Léa Seydoux. Some – not all – began by attempting to crudely murder Bond and ended inevitably surrendering in his arms. But on a few occasions we saw them go into action, distribute hosts like bread and show us their most lethal facet.
everything changed with Nikita die hard (1990), that feature film by Luc Besson where the beautiful Anne Parrillaud played a dangerous 19-year-old uprooted criminal turned into a relentless assassin for the secret services. The girl did not need any male partner to dispatch villains by the dozens and leave the public ojiplática. The box office success was such that Hollywood took action on the matter by making two remakes: the first for the big screen (Killer1993) with an unlikely Bridget Fonda as a bloodthirsty agent, and the second in the form of a soap opera (La Femme Nikita1997-2001), with a very blonde Peta Wilson who lifeguard of the bay with an 8-millimeter automatic that wowed viewers for five seasons.
Since then, the fiction of the last few decades has refined the stereotype to give it greater visual appeal and a dangerous appearance: more youth, beauty, voluptuousness, handling of lethal weapons and mastery of wrestling. Wild hair, a painted mouth and a cold, unruffled look when it comes to decisively pulling the trigger or accurately slicing the neck of a formidable adversary, almost always male. The cliché, believe it or not, worked from the beginning and still does.
Since then, numerous stars of the seventh art have lent themselves to interpret –with better or worse results– these roles of deadly hotties who contribute, with their tight tank tops and king-size submachine guns, to raising the rates of Population testosterone: Angelina Jolie in salted (2010), Charlize Theron in Atomic (2017), Jennifer Lawrence in red sparrow (2018), Jodie Comer in Killing Eve (2018-2022), Sasha Luss in Anna, danger has a name (2019), Olga Kurylenko in Sentinel (2021), Mary Elizabeth Winstead in Kate (2021) or Jessica Chastain, Marion Cotillard and Penélope Cruz in Agents 355 (2022).
And the fever has been spreading to the gamingwith titles like the very realistic Sniper Girls (2016) or the nice The Operative: No One Lives Forever (2000), set in the 60s and starring an agent Cate Archer who works for the UNITY organization fighting crazy criminals who want to conquer the world.
The iconography of sexy girl with gun –of which posters are even sold for teenage rooms, auto repair shops and trucker bars– reaches a new dimension in the German television series ‘Kleo’. Along with the hackneyed clichés of the sub-genre, there is no shortage of black humor here, nods to Tarantino –Lelia Haase seems to have prepared the role by watching Uma Thurman on a loop in kill bill (2003)–, the mandatory gallery of very bad bad guys that we discover in each chapter and, of course, some sex scenes soft where we can admire the natural beauty of our new fetish actress.
Seen from a gender perspective, I wonder how long it will take the offended regulars to decide that all these seductive and deadly spies they are a new objectification of women reduced to an unreal and fanciful stereotype, like those girls from Playboy perfected with Photoshop that only exist on coated paper. As long as the controversy doesn’t break out, enjoy, as Stephen King said, this breath of fresh air.