The 2008 financial crisis was meant to be a wake-up call for the financial community. A thunderous reminder of the devasting consequence that come when banks are reckless with people’s money. As the hit German mini-series Bad Banks shows, not only have these lessons not been learned, but history is more than likely to repeat itself.

Anarchy has broken out in the streets, as reports spread that the largest bank in Germany may be out of money, and a lone hooded figure, Jana Liekam (Paula Beer), is navigating her way through the chaos. Taking us back to the months leading up to this crisis, director Christian Schwochow weaves an intricate tale of corruption that details how Jana not only found herself in the middle of the event; but may have also played a key role in it. Ambitious and intelligent Jana has a knack for upstaging her male superiors who feel their gender makes them more savvy dealmakers.

After unfairly being fired, Jana unexpectedly lands a job at a rival bank working under the much-revered financial risk-taker Gabriel Fenger (Barry Atsma). Moving from one competitive environment to another Jana must not only deal with the pressure to succeed that Fenger places on all his employees, but also learn how to co-exist with alpha males like Adam (Albrecht Schuch) and cutthroat females such as Thao (Mai Duong Kieu). Complicating matters further is the fact that veteran banker, and former co-worker, Christelle Leblanc (Désirée Nosbusch) has provided Jana with some insider information and is her to dig up confidential details on her new employers.


Throwing us into the deep end of a pool overflowing with male egos, Bad Banks is most fascinating when focusing on Jana’s confrontations with all the machismo on display. While others are blinded by the childish antics that many men feel is needed to close deals, Jana’s uses her astute attention to detail to connect with clients on a human level. A rarity in the ruthless world of business.

While the corporate intrigue is captivating, and at times a little confusing when trying to follow the various side deals at play, season one could have used a little more depth in terms of developing the supporting characters. Hopefully individuals like Thao and Adam will be explored further in season two. Thankfully Beer gives such a magnetic performance as Jana that it allows the show to add emotional weight to the human cost of the unethical business practices at play. In the end Bad Banks is one institution worth investing in.

GOETHE FILMS is presenting the exclusive Canadian premiere of the complete first season of Bad Banks at the TIFF Bell Lightbox on the following days: Episodes 1 & 2 (October 4, 6:30 PM), Episodes 3 & 4 (October 9, 6:30 PM) and Episodes 5 & 6 (October 11, 6:30 PM).