A couple of intriguing events for TV lovers have popped up on my radar recently.
Long-time readers will remember that for five years, the Institut Français organised an annual French/UK TV festival called ‘Totally Serialized‘. Some of you might even have won tickets to it on this ‘ere blog. However, there wasn’t one this year, since Totally Serialized is going to become a series of ongoing events throughout the year.
The first of these is a showing on 26 April at 6.30pm at Ciné Lumière in London of France 2’s Le Repenti(Reborn), which is being made available on Walter Presents (US readers can get it through Amazon). It stars Engrenages (Spiral)’s Bruno Debrandt as Alexis, who six years after he was left for dead, burned and wounded by his best friend Victor whom he betrayed, returns to Le Havre to work undercover at Victor’s docks. After significant reconstructive surgery and a changed identity, he is unrecognizable but struggles to stay away from his ex-family.
As you do.
Debrandt will be there on stage in conversation with Walter himself, preceding the showing of episode one. It’s worth noting that it’s actually a two-part telemovie, originally broadcast in 2010, so you’ll only be getting half the story and given that episode one is 90 minutes long and the event’s supposed to finish at 8.15pm, that sounds like about 15 minutes of chat.
Elsewhere, for fans of old UK TV, on 22 April at 7pm at the Museum of Comedy, also in London, Annette Andre will be reminiscing about her career, particularly Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), but also A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum and The Benny Hill Show. There’ll also be a chance to meet her afterwards. Tickets are £17 each.
In the UK: Fridays, 9pm, More4. Also available on Walter Presents In France: Aired on France 2, 2012-2014
To the rest of the world, it can sometimes seem like the only TV channel in France that makes scripted French-language television is Canal+. Take your pick of shows – Engrenages (Spiral), The Last Panthers, Les Revenants, Braquo, The Tunnel– if it’s at least partly in French, it’s going to be from Canal+.
This, of course, is not the case. TF1 makes plenty of French-language shows – TMINE’s pal Monsieur Thierry Attard will point you in their direction in both English and French, if you’re so inclined. There are also plenty of other French TV channels out there making TV in French. It’s just we’ve never really bothered importing it until now.
But having poached all its formats back in the 80s when it was just starting up and now newly awakened to its ratings potential thanks to the success of Les Revenants, Channel 4 is once again looking at French TV as a potential way to fill up the airwaves – as well as the Internet, thanks to Walter Presents. And since everyone, even BBC Four, has been a bit lax at airing anything French for the past 30 years or so, that means Channel 4 is free to pick its way through all of French TV’s archives for the cream of the crop.
So, firstly, we have to thank Walter. Les hommes de l’ombre first aired on pubcaster France 2 nearly four years ago. But despite popping up at 2013’s Totally Serialized (you could have won tickets to see it, thanks to this ‘ere blog, in fact) and featuring the Only Handsome French Actor Everyone Knows About, Grégory Fitoussi (Engrenages, American Odyssey, Mr Selfridge, World War Z, GI Joe), no one bothered with it until Walter picked it for his web site.
And it’s a good choice. Despite its misleadingly translated English title of Spin, it’s actually quite a hard hitting political thriller looking at public perceptions, PR, deception by the state, and modern political campaigns. It stars Bruno Wolkowitch (The Tourist) as Simon Kapita, an old-school political operator of integrity, headhunted by the UN to head up one of its commissions. However, on a quick trip back to his homeland, the man he helped to become President of France is killed by a suicide bomber of Algerian descent, so everyone naturally assumes he was a terrorist. The President of the Senate (Philippe Magnan) takes over and starts to clamp down on security, but Kapita soons discovers that Magnan is hiding the bomber’s true motivation for political advantage – he wants to become the new President.
That’s the plot for episode one. However, wisely for once, More4 aired the first two episodes on Friday, and it’s a bit misleading for me to leave things there since although that deadly secret does remain an important plot point, the show moves on. It’s then about Kapita first selecting a potential alternative candidate (Nathalie Baye), persuading her to run for office and then managing her campaign. Equally important is the fact that Kapita’s protégé, the ambitious and trendy young Ludovic Desmeuze (Fitoussi), throws aside his integrity to run Magnan’s campaign, pitting the two former friends against each other in an escalating political war.
Although comparisons to Borgen are obvious, the show is its own beast, having as much in common with that Danish show as it does with The West Wing, with Kapita’s assembling of his political team reminiscent of that show’s In The Shadow of Two Gunmen and he being almost as inspirational as Josiah Bartlett in his own, French way.
But it’s really a much darker show than both of them. I said Spin was a mistranslation and its French title gives you a better idea of the kind of show it is: Les hommes de l’ombre. As well as being a nice bit of aural word play, this means roughly both ‘the men in the shadows’ and ‘the men behind the scenes’, and indeed, the show is very much about Wolkowitch and Fitoussi as the hidden kingmakers*, working the cogs of democracy, unseen in the shadows, alongside governmental subterfuge.
It’s also very good. While it doesn’t have the gritty realism of Engrenages – or the industrial strength Parisian swearing – it’s got a strong plot, interesting, albeit relatively conventional characters and situations, and some top acting. Although the female characters don’t come out of it very well, they do at least get lots of things to do and the political machinations that we see do have a strong stench of reality to them. Despite the lack of black characters, the show also subtly flags up public racism and islamophobia – a far more topical issue now than it was back in 2012, of course.
Unfortunately, the show’s somewhat let down by its English subtitling. The French dialogue is subtle, nuanced and economical; the subtitles are not. While they usually get most of the plot across, they often change the meaning of what’s been said in significant ways (such as changing certain characters’ perceptions of different political groups and leanings), and somewhat bizarrely do so even when a literal word-for-word translation would have been both more accurate and even better written.
So take it from me – if the dialogue seems bad, it probably isn’t in French.
Well done then, Walter. Good choice. Just hire a better translator next time.
* Yes, France is a republic and Wolkowitch wants to get a woman elected. You know what I mean
Yes, French TV meets UK TV in London in January next year for the fifth time and here are all the details:
Totally Serialized – Season 5 28-30 January 2016 at Ciné Lumière From 28 to 30 January, Ciné Lumière will hold the 5th edition of Totally Serialized, the one and only TV series festival in London. Aiming to promote and improve collaboration between the UK and France, it will showcase the best of new productions from both sides of the Channel. Audiences will get a chance to attend exceptional preview screenings, meet creators and actors and uncover behind-the-scenes peeks.
Those last years of production have proven that TV series are more creative than ever. And more recently, the British TV industry has broken down frontiers, with international buyers moving away from a remake-centred strategy and now broadcasting the original series with subtitles. French shows such as The Returned, Witnesses, Braquo, Spiral, Hard and Maison Close from the French Pay TV channel CANAL+ have benefited from this shift, and have proven to be a success on Channel 4, FX, BBC Four and Sky Arts respectively. Just recently, BBC2 acquired Versailles, another French series.
One of the aims of the festival is to encourage this trend as well as co-productions which are also growing between the UK and France, as demonstrate successful series such as The Tunnel and The Last Panthers – both SKY/CANAL+ co-productions.
In the light of the growing demand for high quality European TV Drama, we organise an Industry dedicated programme on 28 & 29 January in association with Creative Europe Desk UK and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA). Aiming to foster international exchanges and co-productions, it will explore various aspects of the constantly-evolving field of TV series, and offer various networking and speed-dating sessions.
The first day will focus on producing and financing and the second day on TV writing, in partnership with BAFTA and the Society of the Dramatic Authors and Composers (SACD).
For the opening ceremony of the Festival, we are delighted to host the World Premiere of The Tunnel: Sabotage, Series 2, episode 1, courtesy of SKY and CANAL+. The screening will be followed by a Q&A with key creatives and an Industry cocktail, organised in partnership with CANAL+.
Other highlights include an all-night marathon of all three series This is England 86, 88 and 90, attended by talents and shown on the big screen for the first time, a not to be missed treat for the fans.
French comedies are also on the menu with recent smash hit Call My Agent! directed by Cédric Klapisch (Pot Luck) and featuring an all-star cast mocking themselves, and A Very Secret Service, created by OSS 117 scriptwriter Jean-François Halin: a chauvinistic comedy show — the French missing link between James Bond and The Office.
The Festival will also feature political thrillers such as Black Baron centered on the raise for power of a French politician with Kad Merad, and The Bureau, created by Eric Rochant, a high-octane drama on the French secret services, with Mathieu Kassovitz in the lead role.
Last but not least, we invite the audience to give their views on TV series in our Café Philo and kids and families to discover the animated TV series The Long Long Holiday by the producers of Belleville Rendez-vous.
Totally Serialized is curated by Lorraine Sullivan, coordinated by Priscilla Gessati and organised by the Institut français du Royaume-Uni, in association with: the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), Creative Europe Desk UK, CANAL+, Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers (SACD), TV France International, Europe Créative Bureau France, France 24 and C21 Media.
The French Institute web site is down right now, but more information is usually available from www.totallyserialized.co.uk. No trailer as of yet, either, but here’s one for last year’s, as well as trailers for Black Baron (Baron noir) and A Very Secret Service. Stay tuned and there’s the possibility I might be running a competition – how exciting!
Hey everyone – remember the first three Totally Serialized (one, two, three)? Well, the fourth one’s coming next month…
Totally Serialized – Season 4 29 – 31 January 2015 at Ciné Lumière
From 29 to 31 January, Ciné Lumière will hold the 4th edition of Totally Serialized, the one and only TV series festival in London. Aimed to promote and improve collaboration between the UK and France, it will showcase the best of new productions from both sides of the Channel.
Audiences will get a chance to attend exceptional preview screenings and meet creators and actors of their cult TV series.
Those last years of production have proven that TV series are more creative than ever. And more recently, the British TV industry has broken down frontiers, with international buyers moving away from a remake-centred strategy and now broadcasting the original series with subtitles. French shows such as The Returned, Braquo, Spiral, Hard and Maison Close from the French Pay TV CANAL+ have benefited from this shift, and have proven to be a success on Channel 4, FX, BBC Four and Sky Arts respectively. Just recently, Channel 4 acquired Witnesses, another French series. One of the aims of the festival is to encourage this trend.
A dedicated industry programme is organised in association with Creative Europe Desk UK and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) on 29 & 30 January aiming to foster international exchanges and co-productions in order to meet the growing demand for high-quality European TV drama. Various aspects of the constantly-evolving field of TV series, including producing, screenwriting, and financing will be covered.
The festival opening ceremony followed by an industry cocktail is organised with CANAL+.
In partnership with the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers (SACD), British and French TV writers will gather and discuss the art of TV writing on 30 January while networking events will accompany this two-day programme. The festival also launches a speed-dating meeting between selected French and British producers organised with Europe Creative Desk MEDIA France and Ile de France Film Commission.
Festival highlights include a preview of award-winning writer Russell T. Davies’ Banana, courtesy of E4 (Channel 4) in the presence of members of the cast and crew.
Spiral enthusiasts are in for a treat as several events will be dedicated to this dark and labyrinthine Parisian crime drama. While Series 5 will be showing on BBC Four, the CANAL + CREATION ORIGINALE series will be unravelled by its screenwriter Anne Landois in a special screening of episode 1 at Ciné Lumière on 29 January. In addition, Caroline Proust, who plays Captain Laure Berthaud will give a masterclass where Spiral’s fans will learn behind-the-scene stories on 31 January. The UK premiere of Paris, a mini-series from the team behind Spiral, will top it all.
Thrillers are a strong strand in this year’s festival as we will also screen the UK Premiere of Jean-Christophe Grangé’s The Passenger with actor Jean-Hugues Anglade (Braquo). and host a masterclass with Tony Grisoni in which he will decrypt the creative process behind the acclaimed Channel 4 TV show Southcliffe.
This year’s festival will be a platform for new talent with a BAFTA masterclass on ‘Breaking and entering TV Screenwriting’ for budding writers, a marathon of new French TV comedies and fresh out of French animation schools directors with En sortant de l’école, a mini series based on Jacques Prévert’s poems.
After the jump, the programme of public events (ie the ones you can attend if you don’t work in TV). And to find out more or book tickets, visit the Totally Serialized web site