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On the hunt for hippies

On the hunt for hippies

A Netflix crime series traces the murders of Charles Sobhraj and the years of searching for him. This is suspense and escapism for streaming stranded people at the same time.

Tahar Rahim plays Charles Sobhraj full of waxy vanity, Jenna Coleman plays his lover Marie-Andrée Leclerc almost as creepy.

If you have wanderlust, you shouldn't look at Die Schlange - or at least, depending on your current mood. Because the secret stars of the mini-series are their locations, Bangkok and the Southeast Asia of the sixties and seventies, when one could still travel overland on the so-called hippie trail to Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India as far as Thailand. Back then you were not killed by terrorists or warlords on the way, it was cheap, adventurous, free. If you didn't get into the clutches of Charles Sobhraj, the "bikini killer", also known as "The Snake".

Sobhraj, half Vietnamese, half Indian, of French nationality, was what would be called a narcissistic psychopath today. He was a thief and traded in precious stones. Above all, however, he cruelly drugged and murdered hippies to satisfy his intoxication with power and to steal their traveller's checks and passports with which he could later switch from one country to another without being recognized. The snake traces the deeds of and the search for the real Charles Sobhraj in eight exciting parts. Like many psychopaths, he manipulated those around him and got away with bold lies for years. Unfortunately for at least twelve travelers, their families and friends. How many Sobhraj actually killed is not known, the 76-year-old is still silent today. But one of the great strengths of the series is that it does not slide into a visual orgy of violence in which one stays close to the perpetrator, but devotes a lot of narrative space to the victims. Because the hippies back then were certainly a bit naive and not only sympathetic, they scrounged and smacked their way through poor countries, bored with the abundance at home, but they were also nice.

The Knippenbergs are actually too decent and boring for the series

Since the victims are shown not just as sacrifices but as loved ones, it is very much hoped that Sobhraj will be caught soon. It takes an excruciatingly long time. His antagonist is the Dutch embassy secretary Herman Knippenberg, who persistently investigates two missing Dutch people. Otherwise, the diplomats in Bangkok get off rather badly, they prefer to meet in the club to play tennis than to take care of missing compatriots who, if in doubt, are broke and take too many drugs. The corrupt officials in Thailand, with a few exceptions, also make an inglorious figure. Knippenberg (Billy Howle), on the other hand, is a compulsive office stallion, a pain in the ass and still the hero of the series. If it were less well written and staged, one would cheer for Charles Sobhraj, who because of his appearance can change identity at will, celebrates dazzling parties in Bangkok and moves just as casually in Hong Kong as in Karachi. The fact that people enjoy watching the series so much is also due to the actors. The French Tahar Rahim ("A Prophet") plays the killer with a waxy vanity that in itself is very terrible. Jenna Coleman is just as creepy in her somnambulistic way as his lover and accomplice who sees herself as a victim. Knippenberg and his German wife, on the other hand, are smart and decent, open to one another and on an equal footing with one another. Actually too boring for a series that offers so many spectacular moments, scenes, sexy wardrobes and sinister characters.

But after the first really vicious murder at the latest, one appreciates the brittle charm of the Knippenbergs, the glamor of integrity in a depraved environment. So you go on a bizarre journey into the past with the Knippenbergs and Sobhraj, to a Bangkok without mobile phones and Instagram, to exotic countries before mass tourism and cheap airlines. And experience an Asia that is doubly inaccessible - that of pre-pandemic freedom to travel and that of transfigured memory.

The Snake, eight episodes, on Netflix

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