Book Review: Max Linder – Father of Film Comedy by Snorre Smári Mathiesen

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The story of a screen comedy giant’s rise and fall is a haunting tragedy.

Feted by Chaplin, Keaton, and Lloyd, Max Linder was one of silent era’s biggest stars. Born to wealthy vineyard owning parents, Linder would dazzle audiences all over the world. Shooting films nine years before Chaplin, Linder was a cultural icon but today is largely forgotten outside of French-speaking territories.

A comic genius Linder is now recognised as one of the first performers to introduce subtlety. His cane carrying, silk hat wearing screen persona “Max” foreshadowed Chaplin’s tramp. Chaplin would later refer to Linder as ‘his master.’ Following a meeting, Chaplin inscribed a photograph “To Max, the Professor, from his disciple, Charles Chaplin.” More productive than Chaplin, Linder is believed to have shot 500 films of which around 100 still survive.

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Traumatised by experiences in World War One he suffered from bouts of depression for the rest of his life. In February 1924 Linder and his wife made a suicide pact. An attempt to end their lives in a Vienna hotel was thwarted. Contemporary news accounts reported the pair had accidentally overdosed on barbiturates. In October 1925 Linder and his wife retired to a Paris hotel after attending a performance of Quo Vadis. Linder told staff that the room should not be disturbed. The following morning Linder’s mother in law tried to phone her daughter. When her calls were not answered she implored hotel staff to forcibly open the door. Entering the room hotel staff and Linder’s mother-in-law were confronted with the sight of two blood-soaked corpses. Max Linder was 41, his wife was 21. Immediately after hearing the news Charlie Chaplin closed his film studio for a day as a sign of respect.

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Despite being an important figure in the evolution of screen comedy Linder has become a footnote. His name and work are largely forgotten outside of France. A 1983 documentary The Man in the Silk Hat directed by his daughter Maud was a moving homage to an unknown father. More recently Linder has been referenced in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds. Kino Lorber’s release of a boxset containing four American films has been welcomed by cinephiles but the superior French productions are currently unavailable in English speaking territories.

Attempting to restore Linder’s reputation a biography by Norwegian writer Snorre Smári Mathiesen is an expertly research account of the early days of cinema and a life tormented by the horrors of conflict. Researching silent film the author became aware that despite references in noted European cinematic historical texts there was very little information about Linder in English publications. Similarly, in the pre-YouTube and DVD era, it was practically impossible to track down a VHS copy of Linder’s films. The absence of material made Linder seem more compelling and the author embarked on a quest to discover all that he could about the actor.

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An impressive first step on the road to ensuring Linder’s work is more widely known. The author acknowledges a forthcoming biography by Lisa Stein Havn and concedes that it will probably become the definitive text. Max Linder – Father of Film Comedy is an effective introduction to the actor’s life and legacy.

Demonstrating why numerous silent era comedians revered Linder the author presents a vivid account of an ascension to international megastardom and final years blighted by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Due to the particularly dark nature of Linder’s post-war existence, the final chapters are uncomfortable. Even-handed in his analysis of screen icon and person, the author celebrates Linder’s cinematic achievements and is reassuringly frank about his off-screen persona.

Max Linder – Father of Film Comedy is published by BearManorMedia

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DVD Review: Hitchcock/Truffaut

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The story of what happened when two giants of European cinema sat down to discuss their approaches to filmmaking.

In 2012 Sight & Sound published the British Film Institute’s Greatest Film poll. Conducted every ten years, critics, academics, and distributors are surveyed. Bicycle Thieves won the first poll in 1952. Since 1962 Citizen Kane sat in pole position and many thought it would reign supreme as the unbeatable champion. Although it came close to toppling Kane in 2002, news that Vertigo had finally taken the crown in 2012 was met with surprise.  That it had won the poll by a very wide margin suggests it will probably retain the title when the next survey is conducted in 2022.

Vertigo‘s achievement was surprising because it was not always held in such high esteem. Taken out of circulation after it failed to meet expectations at the box office, the only way to see the film until the mid-80s was via illicit screenings of bootleg 16mm prints. Since it’s mid-80s re-release the film and it’s director has undergone a complete critical reevaluation.

61fq3ayehul-_sl1000_Today regarded as one of Europe’s most significant directors, Hitchcock was not always held in such high esteem. Further proof of his continued cultural significance was offered by the BFI who ran a retrospective of his surviving works. In 2013 UNESCO added the nine existing Hitchcock silent films to its archive to represent the UK’s cinematic heritage. Hitchcock’s influence over modern cinema is undeniable and contemporary film fans are often surprised at learning that he was once regarded as a mere peddler of mass entertainment.

French critic and director, François Truffaut regularly visited the Cinémathèque Française as a teenager and was exposed to numerous Hollywood films. Befriending André Bazin  the co-founder of influential film publication Cahiers du cinéma, Truffaut joined the magazine’s writing team and developed the auteur theory which noted the recurrence of themes and techniques in the work of “great directors.” Emphasising the director as author of a film, his theory was initially controversial.

While in France filming To Catch a Thief, Hitchcock was interviewed by Claude Chabrol and François Truffaut for  Cahiers du cinéma. The magazine had published an issue celebrating the director’s work in 1953 and was planning another to be published in the summer of 1956. Challenging the then widely held view that Hitchcock was merely a director-for-hire churning out lurid schlock,  Truffaut and  Cahiers du cinéma helped define the modern sense of  Hitchcock as one cinema’s greatest artists.
American film critic Andrew Sarris applied Truffaut’s Auteur Theory to  an analysis of Hollywood cinema and declared “Hitchcock is the most daring avant-garde filmmaker in America today.”

025-francois-truffaut-tribe-theredlistFeeling that Hitchcock had been evasive in their first meeting, Truffaut wrote to the director and proposed a lengthy interview conducted over several days which would discuss the core elements of a Hitchcock film, approaches to filmmaking, and theories of storytelling. Hitchcock agreed and  Truffaut flew to Hollywood with translator Helen Scott. Eight days of discussion cemented Hitchcock’s critical rehabilitation. The recordings were transcribed and published in France. An English translation was issued in 1967.
Demystifying filmmaking, the book has for decades been regarded as one of the foremost texts of cinema appreciation and analysis. In recent years the authenticity of Hitchcock’s statements has been questioned due to his responses being translated into French and then translated back into English.

Kent Jones enlightening film tells the story of what happened when the Master of Suspense met La Nouvelle Vague’s shining light. Using extracts from the tape-recorded conversations we finally have an unambiguous record of what Hitchcock said over the course of those eight days.

A key moment in the history of film criticism,  Truffaut’s credentials as a director and intimate knowledge of Hitchcock’s work keep the veteran filmmaker on his toes and ensure the interview never descends into effusive gushing. Hard-core Hitchcock enthusiasts and newbies will be educated by this engrossing documentary.

hitchcock-truffaut-2015_t658Analysing key sequences from several Hitchcock films, most notably Vertigo and Psycho. The documentary also includes Hitchcock’s critical comments on a Truffaut’s shot by shot breakdown of a sequence from The 400 Blows.

Recorded when film criticism was still in its infancy, Truffaut’s encyclopaedic knowledge of thematic continuity in Hitchcock’s still stands up today as a superb work of scholarship. It’s easy to forget in the age of DVD and online streaming how hard it was to gain access to films for study purposes back then. Detecting a recurrent thread of Roman Catholic symbolism he verbally pins down Hitchcock until the veteran admits how his formative years are continually woven into his films.

Modern day perspectives from David Fincher, Olivier Assayas, Martin Scorsese, Arnaud Desplechin, Wes Anderson, James Gray, and Richard Linklater highlight why Hitchcock’s fingerprints are all over contemporary cinema.

A must-have DVD for anyone who wants to learn more about the Master of Suspense.

Hitchcock/Truffaut is available to order from Amazon

DVD Review: Maigret Sets a Trap, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair, Maigret Sees Red

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Renowned French film star’s Maigret trilogy.

Despite being largely unknown to English audiences, Jean Gabin was one of French cinema’s biggest stars. The son of music hall artistes, he initially had no interest in an acting career. After a period working as a labourer and warehouse clerk he was cajoled by his father to join the Folies Bergère. Graduating from bit-parts to a leading man, he demonstrated an ability to play a wide variety of roles. He started a screen career at the dawn of the talking picture era.

A commanding screen actor, he appeared in 95 films in a career that lasted over 40 years. Performances in Pepe Le Moko, La Grande Illusion, La Bete Humaine, Le Jour se leve, and Le Quai des brumes were critically acclaimed. One of the pre-war period’s biggest stars, his career’s trajectory was interrupted when hostilities erupted across the continent.

In stark contrast to Georges Simenon, Gabin refused to collaborate with the Nazi regime’s film industry. Relocating to Hollywood, he was offered a contract by Twentieth Century Fox and promoted as “The Spencer Tracy of French pictures.” An artistically fruitless period, he made Moontide for Fox and The Imposter for RKO. A third project, The Temptress, was canceled when he demanded that the producers cast Marlene Detrich as his co-star (Gabin and Dietrch were real-life lovers). Told that he would never again work in Hollywood, Gabin enlisted in the French liberation forces and fought against German troops in Africa.

At the end of the war, he returned to acting. No longer a matinee idol, he played a succession of everyman parts. Gabin and Simenon’s careers first intersected with the 1950 adaptation La Marie du port. A 1958 film En cas de malheur based on Simenon’s romans dur In Case of Emergency saw Gabin act alongside Brigitte Bardot. Also released in the same year was the first of Gabin’s three cinematic outings as Simenon’s pipe smoking Inspector Maigret.

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Despite being maligned by the French new wave, Jean Delannoy directed a number of box-office hits and won the Palme d’Or for his 1960 film La Symphonie pastorale. He was made an officer of the Legion of Honor, a Commander of Arts and Letters and a Commander of the National Order of Merit. In 1986 he received an honorary César. Paying tribute to Delannoy, French President Nicolas Sarkozy described the director as “More than just a great artist, he was a man of great intelligence, alert, pertinent and faithful in friendship,”

By the late 1950s, Delannoy’s reputation had been tarnished by a string of sub-standard films and criticism by François Truffaut. Attuned to the cinematic possibilities of Maigret the director had considered adapting a Simenon novel for several years before securing the cinematic rights to Maigret Sets a Trap. With a reputation for directing solid thrillers including Le garçon sauvage and La minute de vérité, he may have considered an adaptation as an opportunity to restore his box-office fortunes.

First published in 1955. The English translation of Maigret Sets a Trap was issued in 1965. The book has been adapted several times. A recent adaptation starring Rowan Atkinson was poorly received by critics. Delannoy’s version is the most satisfying adaptation.

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Primarily known in English-speaking territories as Maigret Sets a Trap, prints were circulated with the alternate titles Inspector Maigret and Woman-Bait. The film and its two sequels were the last big screen outings for Simenon’s detective released prior to the character migrating to the small screen.

An atmospheric adaptation blessed with supreme production design. Indebted to Film Noir and aware of the urban environment’s importance in the Maigret novels, the director ensured the film made the story’s location the de facto star. An entire district was slavishly on a soundstage. The decision to shoot the majority of the action on a studio lot enabled the director to exercise total control over the environment.

Hybridising American and French approaches to crime films, Delannoy’s location sequences employ expressionistic camera angles favoured by Film Noir directors and attempts to document a city still scarred by war and in the throes of modernisation.

Claustrophobic, tightly coiled and utterly focused, it’s hard to see why Delannoy’s film isn’t better known in the English-speaking world. Maigret Sets a Trap is sensitive to the humanistic philosophy expressed in Simenon’s novels. The film has many reasons to recommend tracking down a copy; tight plotting, thematic complexity, a distinguished supporting cast. At it’s core is an electric portrayal from one of French cinema’s most popular actors. Stripping away the over reliance of props that had plagued previous attempts at filming Maigret, Gabin’s performance conveyed compassion and solidity. Simenon was pleased with Gabin’s interpretation and is alleged to have suggested that future Maigret novels might be influenced by the performance.

A box office hit in France, Maigret Sets a Trap was seen by more than 2,500,000 cinemagoers. It was nominated for a BAFTA and won an Edgar Allan Poe award. The film’s producers commissioned a sequel to satisfy a public clamouring for further cinematic adaptations. Released in 1959, Maigret and the St. Fiacre Affair is considered by critics to be a less successful film. Adapted from a novel first published in 1933, the film contains a number of elements that will delight Maigret enthusiasts and Simenonologists.

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Leaving behind the first film’s urban environment, the sequel relocates to a small village. Maigret is visiting his childhood home at the request of the Duchess of Saint-Fiacre. She has recently received an anonymous letter stating that she will soon die. When she suffers a fatal heart attack during a religious service the local doctor pronounces she died of natural causes. Maigret is not satisfied with the diagnosis and is convinced the Duchess was murdered.

Tonally very different from its predecessor, the portrait of a once-great family in decline is indebted to Agatha Christie and Citizen Kane. Delannoy once again demonstrating a sympathy for themes present in the originating novel, effectively balances moments of joy and intensity.

Jean Gabin played Maigret one final time in the disappointing Maigret Sees Red. Jean Delannoy declined an offer to return to direct and was replaced by Gilles Grangier. Released in the UK shortly after the finale of the BBC’s highly-praised adaptation featuring Rupert Davies, Grangier’s film was largely ignored. Gabin’s performance is not enough to save the film. Not entirely unwatchable, it suffers from having a director too much in awe of American B-pictures and a lack of enthusiasm for the work of Georges Simenon. Jean Gabin’s Maigret deserved a better final investigation.

Maigret Sets a Trap is available to order from Amazon.

Maigret and the St. Fiacre Case is available to order from Amazon.

Maigret Sees Red is available to order from Amazon.


Blu-ray Review: Jeune & Jolie

In recent decades the dominant image of sex work within movies has been perpetuated by 1990 rom-com Pretty Woman. Earlier more cautionary narratives (Taxi Driver, Working Girls) were superseded within the popular consciousness by an overtly sentimentalized story of an improbable romance between escort and client. With support from a mainstream studio, canny marketing, and a soundtrack album that became one of that year’s best-selling titles this sanitized and deeply problematic film enjoyed a highly profitable run at the box office, was nominated in several categories by the BAFTA, Golden Globes and at the Academy Awards Julia Roberts won an Oscar for Best Actress. In the years since its release British and American films and television have increasingly featured a myriad of fictionalised prostitution chronicles that do not reference the inherent dangers associated with this industry and present character interplay which is an all too obvious riff on the relationship between Pretty Woman‘s core protagonists, True Romance and Shameless are possibly the most instantly recognizable examples of this trend. More recently, the ITV network has broadcast an adaptation of Brooke Magnanti’s blog and confessional memoirs , The Secret Diary of a Call Girl, that was criticised by feminists for glamourising the industry and not placing sufficient emphasis on the risks routinely faced by sex workers. Perhaps due to cultural distinctness or differences in funding mechanisms, contemporary and historical European productions have been less reluctant to shy away from documenting potential endangerment to the self and family as a consequence of prostitution. From the period piece Maison Close, through to Belle de Jour and Christiane F – Wir Kinder vom Banhof Zoo the probable ramifications of a career in this industry have been explored without undue moralizing, mawkishness or melodrama. Continuing in the continent’s tradition of using fictional film to scrutinize this highly contentious issue without recourse to histrionics, François Ozon’s most recent motion picture Jeune & Jolie offers an open narrative with no firm conclusions and a requirement on the audience’s part to fill in the all important gaps in character arcs. A pivotal figure in the history of French cinema, Bunuel’s influence looms large throughout Jeune & Jolie in terms of performances, visual style, and casting decisions. Inevitable comparisons to his film Belle de Jour are not without justification. In this more permissive age it is impossible to recreate the shock experienced by 1960s cinema audiences seeing Catherine Deneuve play a frustrated housewife who is only able to find excitement and fulfilment when she begins a double life as an escort in a discreet brothel. To engender an emotional response Ozon presents a teenage rite of passage as descent into hell over a twelve month period. Bunuel’s archetype of an impassive figure upon which characters and viewers are able to project their sexual desires is recalled in a movie that features voyeurism, objectification and gratification as constant themes. During a family holiday seventeen year old Isabelle (Marine Vacth) loses her virginity to a German tourist (Lucas Prisor). A joyless experience, she swiftly distances herself from the boy despite his having already been welcomed by her family. Returning home she embarks on a double life, student and in the afternoons as “Lea” a high class escort entertaining clients in luxury hotels. Segmented into four seasons, each bookended by a Francois Hardy song, the film’s high culture aspirations are telegraphed by the use of a Rimbaud poem. Through judicious use of subjective shots and mirrors the director continuously plays with theories of the male gaze in cinema. The emotive subject of teenage prostitution is treated as an intellectual exercise, no explicit statement on this issue is made by the narrative. Gaps in story information compound the feeling that the viewer is required to impose their own interpretations onto the film’s canvas.

An intriguing performance from Marine Vacth transcends any scripting problems. Her character’s motives are unknown and whilst Ozon may have intended to be deliberately obscure, the focus on consequences without the all important knowledge of how and why Isabelle turned to prostitution dilutes the screenplay’s highly stirring arguments. During casting sessions Catherine Deneuve was considered for a key role but conscious of the possibility that parallels to Belle de Jour might become too obvious an alternative choice was made, Charlotte Ramping whose stately elegance and restrained mournful reading kick-starts the film’s shift into a totally unexpected direction. Juene &  Jolie can be ordered from Amazon: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jeune-Jolie-Young-Beautiful-Blu-ray/dp/B00GDEZN8G/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1395607483&sr=8-2&keywords=jeune+jolie http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jeune-Jolie-Young-Beautiful-DVD/dp/B00GDEZMKK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1395607538&sr=8-1&keywords=jeune+jolie

Blu-ray Review: Betty Blue

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Emphasizing a slick visual style, proponents of Cinema du Look founded a mode of film production that was a postmodern reaction to, and rejection of, the more politicised approach taken by the New Wave. Recognizing the aesthetic properties of pop videos, despite critical commentary which regarded them as disposable ephemera, this movement sought to employ a strong visual dynamic ensuring that spectacle became a determining factor in the construction of narrative forms.

A key name in the founding of this movement was Jean-Jacques Beineix. Emerging onto the cinema landscape with the 1981 film Diva Beineix dazzled audiences and critics, with a thrilling storyline about an opera enthusiast hunted by the police. Coupling a strong sense of genre awareness with inventive cinematography, the director was justly recompensed for such an audacious approach to the crime film at the César Award ceremony where the film was the winner in four separate categories including Best Debut.

After a less than successful follow up, Moon in the Gutter, Beineix was sent a copy of the novel 37°2 le matin by Phillipe Dijan ahead of its publication. Convinced that this story of a tempestuous love affair between between a mentally unstable girl and a handy man had the potential to combine his interest in crafting memorable tableaux alongside an emotionally charged storyline, the director immediately optioned the property.

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First released in 1986, Betty Blue seeped into the cannon of all time great cult films thanks to a striking, yet simple, poster which adorned many a student’s bedroom and ignited nascent interest in world cinema. A gateway film, for some, it arrived on the cultural landscape at precisely the right time. Previously, access to alternative (i.e. non Hollywood) forms of cinema was restricted to film clubs and occasional screenings at universities or film festivals but by the mid 1980s several labels had proven a previously untapped fanbase would voraciously hoover up whatever titles were made available. Releases on VHS and DVD may have sought to service Betty Blue as best as possible given the available technology but the then attainable versions tempered the film’s precisely constructed rich palate of colours knitting them into a muted version which diminished the movie . Thanks to a supreme restoration from Second Sight fans can once again bathe in the luxurious warmth of cinematographer Jean-François Robin’s deceptively simple lighting, enjoying the full range of colours (and their hidden meanings) for the first time since its initial cinema release.

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In French speaking territories the film retains the book’s title, 37°2 le matin, but due to possible confusion amongst English audiences about the precise significance of this temperature the alternative, Betty Blue, was selected based on a suggestion made by the director’s American girlfriend. Perhaps wanting the audience to become fully absorbed in Betty’s character development, Beineix successfully lobbied to cast an unknown performer in the role instead of a known actor who would undoubtedly have brought a considerable amount of baggage in terms of associations with past roles. After a screen test that delivered the precise levels of vulnerability, excitability, and sexual magnetism sought by the director the role was given to Beatrice Dalle and in playing the part she created a character which would from then on define her fictional image within the public’s imagination and be cited by the press when writing about her off-screen experiences.

Betty is a force of nature who falls in lust, then love, with handy-man Zorg (Jean-Hugues Anglade – Braquo). A tragic tale of obsession and possession ignited by a refusal to accept the here and now. Initially setting out its stall as a story about a highly sexed young couple, the story pivots upon the discovery of an unpublished manuscript and suddenly Zorg is transformed, in Betty’s eyes, into an undiscovered creative genius. Unshaken in her belief that he is wasting his talents painting run down holiday shacks in an obscure seaside resort she torches Zorg’s home and drags him away to Paris with the promise of a more fulfilling existence in Paris.

As Zorg acquaints himself with his new life he toils away first as a plumber and then at differing stages waiter and piano shop manager whilst Betty embarks on a crusade to get his novel printed. Each rejection exacerbates her underlying mental illness. Defined primarily through action, we learn relatively little about Betty’s back-story so the precise nature of her condition is open to interpretation. Initially displaying symptoms associated with manic depression, her inability to cope with bad news concerning Zorg’s manuscript decline amplifies her destructive behaviour and contributes to the, implied, development of full blown schizophrenia.

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Age has not dimmed this film’s potency, Betty Blue is even more bewitching in this enhanced edition. A movie that self consciously plays with theories about the role of the male gaze within cinema whilst celebrating vivaciousness (in front and behind the lens). Second Sight’s two disc package contains the theatrical release and more substantial director’s version alongside a specially commissioned hour long documentary featuring all the key players involved in making this exceptional film. An added bonus is Beatrice Dalle’s original screen test.

Betty Blue can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Betty-Blue-Deluxe-Edition-Blu-Ray/dp/B00F1BKSWS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385527547&sr=8-1&keywords=betty+blue+blu+ray

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Betty-Blue-Deluxe-Disc-Edition/dp/B00F1BKT04/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1385527582&sr=8-3&keywords=betty+blue+dvd

DVD Review: The Returned

Channel 4’s early days were characterised by innovation. Established with a remit to cater for minority audiences, the station frequently pushed the envelope and broadcast trailblazing programming. Content that would not have been screened by the BBC or ITV found a ready made home in this fledgling station’s schedules. Before Channel 4’s launch transmissions of foreign language TV drama used either dubbed prints (The Flashing Blade, Monkey, The Water Margin) or retained the original dialogue track but buried it deep within the mix and slapped an English language narrator at the front of the sound design (The Singing Ringing Tree). The funding model which Channel 4 adhered to in its formative years ensured that it did not need to worry about a collapse in advertising revenue as any shortfall would be met by the ITV network. In short, this meant that Channel 4 could screen whatever it wanted, provided the programme met broadcasting guidelines, and not be concerned about alienating potential advertisers. Emboldened by the financial safety net offered by ITV Channel 4 decided to screen subtitled TV drama . As part of this experiment British viewers were treated to The Black Forest Clinic and Châteauvallon. What should have been a brave new era in broadcasting proved to be a false dawn as Channel 4 swiftly dumped subtitled TV drama from its schedules and twenty years would pass before the station decided to once again start showing series from mainland Europe. What made Channel 4 realise that European shows could attract and maintain an audience? Two words: The Returned.

Within a matter of weeks The Returned has become a cult hit. Critical praise has been accompanied by an expressions of adoration and engagement by fans who trawl through Twitter and assorted forums praising the Lynchian direction, Mogwai’s soundtrack whilst trying to figure out the connection between the returnees, how they might have been revived, and what directions the show might take in future seasons. Amongst all the praise and positive column inches that has flowed in Channel 4’s direction since the show aired the fact that it is a re-imagining of a 2004 feature film has been overlooked.

Directed by Robin Campillo, The Returned was originally released in English language territories as They Came Back. An atmospheric and highly cerebral take on the zombie genre it may have been unjustly ignored in the immediate post 28 Days Later era. Danny Boyle’s film updated familiar tropes and presented them in a movie that celebrated contemporary London and payed homage to several BBC shows including Survivors and its 1981 adaptation of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. The success, particularly in America, of Boyle;s movie may have been in part because of an audience wanting to see zombies act in a manner that was consistent with other films in this genre. Campillo’s take on the undead may have been too radical for the time and perhaps it is only now that the audience exists for such an innovative approach.

Releasing the film on DVD a few days before Channel 4 airs the season finale is a canny bit of marketing guaranteed to pay dividends for Arrow Films but this has caused some confusion amongst fans who are worried that watching the film might spoil the season finale or think that the movie might contain all important clues which will help them unlock the TV version’s puzzle.

On TV the action is confined to a French Alpine town whereas in Campillo’s version the world wakes up one morning to find that every single person to have died over the previous ten years has returned to life. With no explanation for what has caused this phenomena the audience joins the characters in an initial state of bewilderment accompanied by awe. The sheer scale of this inexplicable development is deftly communicated in an opening sequence which shows masses of previously dead people leaving a cemetery in search of their old lives and loved ones.

Facing potential social and economic meltdown due to millions of returnees needing immediate access to food and shelter the government sets up emergency refuge centres within municipal buildings whilst it tries to comprehend what has occurred and legislate for any potential outcomes.

Effectively forced to walk a very fine tightrope the government has to treat the resurrected with dignity and compassion all the time aware of the potential emotional confusion being experienced by relatives.

The returnees may look like us but as the film unfolds we learn that they differ in many subtle ways. Exhibiting symptoms similar to acute aphasia the resurrected are unsuited for any tasks requiring original creative thought. No longer able to perform their pre death jobs they are put to work in repetitive and unskilled posts by a society that is growing ever more suspicious.

Requiring no sleep the reanimated travel great distances by foot each night to congregate with fellow animated cadavers. Psychologists, medical professionals, and governmental representatives are at a loss to explain this ritual and are unsure if it is somehow connected with the resurrection process or perhaps has a more sinister purpose.

A radical reinvention of the zombie film, possibly too forward thinking in its approach for the story to be satisfactorily told by a single movie. The final act lacks coherence but that may be an editorial choice. With no clear cut answer as to what brought about the resurrections and whatever it is that the returnees are planning the potential for interpretations is virtually unlimited.

We are aware that incidents of resurrection have happened across the globe but by focusing exclusively on the French experience we are unsure if the narrative is incomplete; or if Robin Campillo is making a statement about the potential erosion of French culture.

The Returned is thoughtful, subtle, atmospheric and unnerving It deliberately avoids clichés and that may be why the film is not better known within the UK. Fans of the TV show will find this film to be very different to what they may have been expecting. Different in terms of tone, characters, and overall storyline and yet this is a movie that aficionados should watch if only to see what inspired Fabrice Gibert’s masterful re-imagining.

The Returned can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00CYGZVGQ/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i2?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=0W4TGT6DYZ3DQKVWC0HZ&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=358549767&pf_rd_i=468294

DVD Review: State Affairs

The explosion of a plane carrying an illegal arms cargo above the Gulf of Guinea and the murder of a sex worker in a Paris car park are somehow intertwined. With a Presidential election looming dark forces in the heart of government will stop at nothing to prevent any politically toxic information from leaking into the public domain. Nora Chahyd (Rachida Brakni) is a police officer of Algerian origin who is prepared to go lone wolf and head the investigation no matter what cost to her career and life.

Adapted from a novel by Dominique Manotti, State Affairs is a complex thriller directed by Éric Valette (Braquo) that is not ashamed to celebrate it’s enthusiasm for Americana. The film’s Gallic Noir credentials are impeccable; André Dussollier starred in Micmacs, Rachida Brakni appeared in Chaos and is married to Eric Cantona with whom she fronts a fashion label but in emphasising State Affair’s French connections we might accidentally overlook the movie’s implicit agenda of being a love letter to that most American of genres, the Western. Through use of incidental music, poster placement, and narrative tropes, State Affairs illustrates how a specific genre has been imported into European culture and modified before being exported back to its spiritual homeland.

Attracted to the property because of the characters moral ambiguity, Valette, in conjunction with his screenwriters, elected to retain the overall story structure albeit with some streamlining to ensure the adaptation remained coherent and emotionally satisfying within the available screen time. Amongst the revisions made to the story is an updating of the timeline, in the book events take place in Mitterand era but now they occur in twenty first century France, albeit a version with an unnamed President. Other amendments include Nora Chahyd being a Muslim who doesn’t observe Ramadan which creates so many potential layers of meaning in terms of a French cultural identity possibly being how more important to the character than adherence to a religious belief system.

Over two hundred years have passed since the French Revolution and yet characters still refer to the ‘new Republic’. The film establishes very quickly that the ideals which were behind the state’s founding have been compromised by a trail of corruption the leads all the way to the Presidential office. The tainting of the promised land and debasement of the principals underpinning a young and fragile society is a theme prevalent in many Westerns and by by focusing on Nora Chahyd’s quest to uncover the truth and bring the guilty parties to justice the filmmakers are drawing from another common trope; the outsider who enters a community and despite insurmountable odds wages a battle to reclaim the land and restore moral certainty.

The Western motifs are carried over into the score which is comprised of a mixture of original pieces in the vein of Ennio Morricone, Gianfranco and Gian Piero Reverberi’s work and archival recordings from classic Spaghetti Westerns (did I spot a snatch of Django, Prepare a Coffin’s bass theme?). Further proof of the director’s affection for the genre is provided by the use of classic Western posters adorning the walls of the detective’s department within the police station, most notably Johnny Hamlet.

This frenetic thriller is brimming with action and intrigue. Loaded with subplots that dissect the heart of modern democracy and show it to be as black as a lump of coal State Affairs is blessed with a high-reaching script that opens with a bang and then accelerates the pace right up until the film’s final moments.

State Affairs can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/State-Affairs-DVD-Eric-Valette/dp/B00CIWS5WI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1372151288&sr=8-1&keywords=state+affairs