DVD Review – The Bureau – Complete Season Two

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Addictive spy thriller should be your next binge-watch.

The Bureau‘s first season offered a realistic portrayal of modern day espionage far removed from the stylised version offered up by the James Bond films. Ten thrilling episodes kept viewers on the edge of their seats as French intelligence officer Malotru (Mathieu Kassovitz) tore up the rule book and endangered France’s national security. In the closing moments of the series newly promoted to deputy director of the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE) he agreed to become a double-agent for the CIA.

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More intense than the first season, The Bureau‘s return is wider in scope. At its heart, the series is a powerful study of treachery, torment, and the shifting tectonic plates of geopolitics. Already in production when the Charlie Hebdo attacks occurred, showrunner Éric Rochant’s screenplays address concerns about the rise of homegrown extremism and the state’s ineffectiveness in combating Isis and Al-Qaeda.

Contrasting the spectacle of fieldwork in Damascus, Istanbul, and Tehran with a complex web of paranoia in the DGSE’s headquarters, it’s an unremittingly intense drama. Immersive and utterly convincing, The Bureau occasionally plays like an anti-Homeland. Perhaps the closest television will ever get to presenting a glimpse into the fight against terror without artifice or flag waving.

The Bureau – Complete Season Two is available to order from Amazon

The Bureau – Complete Season One

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Tinker Tailor Gallic Spy: Masterly stylish slow burning espionage series is a gripping drama.

As the spy who came in from warmer climes, French intelligence operative Malotru is recalled to Paris after spending six years in Damascus. Leaving behind a life recruiting new agents in the field he struggles to cope with the prospect of a desk-bound job at the Directorate General of External Security (DGSE).

Mathieu Kassovitz (Malotru)

A world away from Ian Fleming’s view of spycraft, at times The Bureau plays out like an anti-Bond. Cynical, complex, and realistic, the series channels John Le Carre’s pessimistic view of the intelligence community. Expertly sketched atmosphere pours through every frame in this portrait of tradecraft and it’s consequences.

Based on accounts by former agents, The Bureau also draws from contemporary geopolitical events. Though France’s operations in Syria serves as the story’s backdrop, the narrative’s main focus is an agent’s behaviour threatening to bring down the entire department and put France’s security at risk.

Film actor Mathieu Kassovitz plays Malotru, an operative suffering from an acute case of Post-Mission Syndrome. After a six-year absence from his homeland, he is reunited with a daughter who barely remembers him and knows nothing about his work.  During his time in Damascus he fell in love and is now forced to relinquish all ties with his undercover identity. Convinced he is one step ahead of his enemies and allies, Malotru breaches security protocol and reaches out to his former girlfriend unaware that she is already in Paris on the false pretence of attending a UNESCO sponsored course.

Mathieu Kassovitz (Malotru)

In a world of secrets and lies knowing when to ditch a false identity will save countless lives. Nadia (Zineb Triki) only knows Malotru’s undercover alias. She believes he is a teacher taking a sabbatical to write a novel. His superiors are unaware that he has reactivated “Paul Lefebvre” and begun living a double life. As their relationship blossoms the lovers will be forced to choose sides in a war against terror.

Less stylised than Homeland and more authentic than Spooks, The Bureau has a strong claim to being the most realistic depiction of twenty-first-century espionage on TV. Series creator Eric Rochant’s 1994 thriller The Patriots is used as a training film by the French intelligence community which led to the showrunner and his team being given special permission to visit the DGSC and speak with former agents.

Expertly building tension throughout the season, it’s a perfectly paced excursion into a world of subterfuge and betrayal. Distinctively directed, this understated show is filled with enough edge of the seat moments to make you devour it in a single sitting. Undeniably the best French show to reach these shores since Spiral‘s first season, The Bureau is an exceptional series.

The Bureau is available to order from Amazon.

DVD Review: Braquo – The Complete Season Four

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Eddy Caplan confronts the Turkish Mafia in an explosive final season.

The hardest-hitting series on French TV. Compared to The Wire, The Shield, and Breaking Bad, it was created by former police officer turned screenwriter Olivier Marchal. Hyper violent, filled with Michael Mann-style shootings, torture, and murder, the series gripped France and has become a cult smash in the UK and USA.

braquo-s4_4Fans had been led to believe that the third season was to be the final outing for Eddy Caplin and his crew but with too many plot lines left dangling it was inevitable that one further batch of episodes would bring a definitive end to the story of France’s most brutal screen detectives.

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Jean-Hugues Anglade (Betty Blue) plays morally compromised cop Eddy Caplin. After a colleague’s suicide Eddy and his team crossed the line as they set out to clear the deceased’s name. At the start of the fourth season the team takes on the Turkish Mafia and confront’s Marseille’s godfather. Eddy visits his brother in prison and asks him to arrange an execution. Chief Superintendent Henri Brabant (Thierry René) has been sent by Internal Affairs to keep an eye on Caplan and his cohorts.

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When series creator Olivier Marchal departed after the first season critics accused the show of becoming ever more preposterous and losing its bite. This final series maintains its trademark levels of violence, murky characters and unexpected plot twists. Bowing out with a run that once again blurs the boundary between police officers and criminals the fourth season restores Braquo‘s reputation as it comes close to matching the quality of its first series.
After a previous false alarm fans might be tempted to think Braquo will return for a fifth season but the producers have unequivocally stated this is the definitive end. This viscerally exciting series is an essential purchase for those who like hard-edged and occasionally bonkers crime drama.

Braquo – The Complete Season Four is available to order from Amazon.

DVD News: The Disappearance

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Arrow Films has announced the Monday 4th July release DVD and Blu-ray release of intimate, character-driven French drama The Disappearance.

Having been a huge success in France, The Disappearance made its UK debut on BBC Four on Saturday 28th May.

Léo Legrand
Léo Legrand

The French premiere of The Disappearance attracted over 5 million viewers and continued to draw in more viewers across its run time to become the best performing programme of 2015 on France 2.

For her performance in The Disappearance Alix Poisson (The Returned) won the Series Mania Award for Best Actress in 2015.

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Julien and Florence find themselves in every parent’s worst nightmare when their daughter Léa, a promising straight A-student, goes missing after attending Lyon’s Festival of Music. The last that was heard of her was a 3am answering machine message saying: “Daddy! It’s Leah, if you’re here please pick up!”

The Disappearance is available to pre-order from Amazon:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disappearance-DVD-Francois-Xavier-Demaison/dp/B01FSGKJJW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1466094968&sr=8-1&keywords=the+disappearance

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Disappearance-Blu-ray-Francois-Xavier-Demaison/dp/B01FSGKJO2/ref=sr_1_1_twi_blu_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1466094968&sr=8-1&keywords=the+disappearance

Totally Serialized – Interview with Caroline Proust

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Caroline Proust, star of Spiral, visited Institut Francais and revealed behind-the-scenes secrets of France’s most successful police series to more than 200 fans.

Frequently compared to The Wire, Spiral’s hard-edged view of French policing introduced British audiences to Gallic Noir. Now in its fifth season, a sixth will be produced later this year, this gritty drama tackles issues facing contemporary France through the eyes of its justice system.

The latest series has been the most successful to date in the UK. Critics have responded with levels of fervour not seen since The Bridge and ratings have topped the million mark.

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Making her début at a British event, a visibly delighted Proust admitted to being surprised at Spiral’s popularity in Britain.

‘We just knew that there’s been a million viewers for this season,’ she says. ‘Gregory (Fitoussi – Pierre Clément) told me. He worked here on Mr Selfridge and he told me that it was a big success here.’

Fresh from delivering a masterclass on how the show is made and her approach to playing Laure. Proust posed for photographs and signed autographs for over 200 fans.

She recently joined Facebook and has connected with over 3,000 enthusiasts.

‘I opened a Facebook account because I wanted to know what was happening in other countries,’ she explains. ‘This is very interesting for me to hear from Italian, Greek, American, and English fans. There are many English fans.’

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A classically trained actor, Proust was primarily known for her work on the stage when she joined the series. In between seasons she returns to the theatre. Would she be interested in appearing in the West End?

‘I would really like to do that. Maybe I can come with a French play. I came years ago with the play Game of Love and Chance.’

Spiral’s popularity is on the rise. Might now be the time to capitalise on its success and make a feature film?

‘We were wondering. The producer asked us if we want to do a cinema movie. First time we said yes, yes we want to do that and we said I don’t know if it’s a good idea,’ she says. ‘The thing which is very interesting is that you can show how complex human beings are. In the movie you only have one and a half hours.’

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Institut Francais have posted a podcast containing extracts from Caroline Proust and Anne Landois’ panels:

For information about future events please contact:

Institut Français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT

Info & booking: 020 7871 3515

http://www.institut-francais.org.uk/

Spiral – Series 5 can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Spiral-5-DVD-Gr%C3%A9gory-Fitoussi/dp/B00SBA4LRY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1424559750&sr=8-1&keywords=spiral+series+5

DVD Review: Braquo – The Complete Season Three

Following hot on the heels of Barry Forshaw’s recently published indispensable overview Euro Noir, Arrow Films have unleashed a show several shades darker than the Scandi-crime series we’ve come to know, enjoy, and love in recent years.

Frequently compared to The Wire, Braquo is a hard hitting gritty police drama created by former officer turned screenwriter and director, Olivier Marchal (36 Quai des Orfèvres). The title is a French slang term for heist. A uniquely French take on the genre, this treacle thick uncompromising series is loaded with frenetic and electric twists from the opening frames right up until the closing moments of the final episode.

For two years fans have been eagerly awaiting the next instalment in the misadventures of anti-hero Eddy Caplan (Jean-Hugues Anglade). Plunged head-first into an ever widening spiral of deceit, destruction and corruption after a superior officer is accused of brutally assaulting a suspect during an interrogation. Facing loss of hard earned status and probable imprisonment this long standing member of the force takes his own life. Promoted to the head of the team, Caplan’s immediate priority is to clear his former boss’ name. An attempt to snatch the suspect from a hospital goes wrong with devastating consequences…

From the second season onwards the writing team was bolstered with the addition of Abdel Raouf Dafri (Mesrine, A Prophet). Harder edged than the première series, the adrenaline fuelled sophomore outing for Caplan and his crew ramped up the tension with increased action and intense violence alongside finely tuned characterisations. Pushing the envelope, series two offered up a pyrrhic tale of revenge and redemption that ended with an unexpected nerve shattering cliffhanger which left fans waiting two years to see how the team would deal with the consequences.

Successful in their quest to rejoin the elite unit, celebrations are cut short when Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is caught in an explosion. With their friend and colleague rushed to hospital suffering from 80 % burns, Caplan and the crew are determined to avenge this atrocity. Cautioned by their boss against administering swift, and illegal, punishment the emotionally shattered team regroups to find ways of ensnaring the guilty party.

Returning to active duty, the unit investigates a human trafficking operation. Caught in the crossfire of a Mafia war that threatens to douse Paris in human blood, the team is plagued by bouts of infighting and must be constantly vigilant against double-crossing by members of their own department. Torn apart by grief and fury, Caplan and his crew continue their walk along the blurred line separating law from illegality. Refusing to let due process stand in the way of punishing wrongdoers this band of maverick cops is prepared to go to any lengths necessary in order to deliver retribution.

Shot through with a breathtaking barrage of dynamic action, murky characters who are never quite what they seem, and a constant stream of cigarette smoke, the series packs in layer upon layer of labyrinthine sub-plots. An addictive show that gets under the viewer’s skin and doesn’t shake free until the final credits have rolled. Over eight spellbinding hours a dark and murky tale unfolds at a breakneck speed involving the Eastern European Mafia, a former police officer turned kidnapper, and a woman hell-bent on seeking revenge.

Scripts from the writer of Mesrine and A Prophet have remodelled the show and given it a distinct identity unlike anything else on TV. Suspense filled and littered with twists which will leave the viewer feeling punch drunk. A mesmerizing glimpse into Paris’ darker crevices, Braquo is a worthy companion to the series currently being produced by our Scandinavian cousins.

Braquo – The Complete Series Three can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Series-DVD-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2SL4/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946618&sr=8-2&keywords=braquo

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Series-Blu-ray-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2TGS/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946827&sr=8-2&keywords=braquo+blu

Braquo – Trilogy can be ordered from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Trilogy-DVD-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2SKA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946865&sr=8-2&keywords=braquo+trilogy

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Braquo-Trilogy-Blu-ray-Jean-Hugues-Anglade/dp/B00KIM2RJM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405946865&sr=8-1&keywords=braquo+trilogy

Euro Noir by Barry Forshaw is available from Amazon and all major booksellers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Euro-Noir-Essential-European-Essentials/dp/1843442450/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1405947305&sr=8-1&keywords=euro+noir

DVD Review: JO – Season One

Starring Jean Reno (Leon, Mission Impossible) in the lead role JO is a series quite unlike anything else to have been released since the recent explosion of interest in European TV drama began. After more than thirty years working exclusively in feature films Reno has been tempted back to television with the promise of playing the lead in what is reported to be one of the most expensive shows to have ever been shot in France.

Devised by René Balcer (Law & Order) the series combines American approaches to storytelling with European production values. Charlotte Siegling (The Killing and The Bridge) is amongst the roster of directors.  Made specifically for export with an eye on the all important North American market, JO‘s cast of regulars and guest artistes is filled with British, Canadian, Irish, and American actors all speaking with American accents whilst pretending to be French. The version made available in each non English language territory, including France, is dubbed with a fresh dialogue track so the presence of incongruous accents and required suspension of disbelief is not an issue For those who enjoy the experience of reading subtitles their absence presents something of a problem but the audience willing to spend several hours or weeks watching European drama is comparatively small. With a budget rumoured to be in the region of $2.5 million USD per episode JO has been constructed to go beyond the existing cult fanbase and is aimed squarely at a mainstream audience.

Against a backdrop of Paris’ most famous tourist friendly monuments JO applies tried and tested tropes, familiar to those who have seen Law & Order or N.C.I.S, and incorporates a European sensibility that may seem exotic to a mainstream audience viewing a French based drama for the first time. A Trojan horse, JO  utilizes the traditional American police procedural generic template and blends in a layered and morally ambiguous cast of characters. Elements which may seem commonplace to long term fans of European TV drama are new and obscure for the wider gallery so a reliance upon recognizable components is necessary in order to persuade cautious viewers to join this series’ detective on his professional and personal emotional journeys.

Jean Reno plays Jo Saint-Clair, a complex character, full of contradictions. A detective assigned to the homicide division who has danced with the criminal underworld for so long he’s now tainted by a permanent stench of filth. This modern day Icarus has sailed close to the sun far too many times with disastrous consequences. Physically weakened by a heart attack brought upon by years of hard living he’s trapped within a personal hell from which escape seems impossible.

Standing on the edge of the abyss Jo is hell bent on throwing himself head first into a pit of eternal spiritual torment. No longer believing in the power of redemption Jo relies upon an unhealthy mix of heavy alcohol consumption and pill popping to silence the screams in his head. Nights are spent playing cards with low rent thugs and as each fresh day breaks, bringing with it painful moments of lucidity, he has even less reason to trust his faltering moral compass. Feared and respected by criminals and colleagues, Jo is a loner who knows when to bend and break the rules. At times deceptively laconic, this façade conceals a primal rage. Those who have witnessed Jo’s volcanic eruptions live with an ever present fear that one day he may explode and cross the line..

Years spent fraternising with the more dangerous elements of Parisienne society have attuned Jo’s understanding of lawlessness to the point where he can see patterns in things that other, less worldly-wise, officers would have dismissed without thought. . The darker aspects of his personality are tempered by his channelling a lifetime of personal tragedies and failings into overt demonstrations of empathy towards victims of crime.

A lost soul, the son of a sex worker he has no knowledge of his father’s identity. With a surname taken from the street in which he was born, Jo is suffering from a perpetual sense of self loathing compounded by a long standing existential crisis. The absence of a stable father figure has left him emotionally bereft and he’s spent his life filling the void with a succession of destructive surrogate replacements. Jo’s relationship with card shark and notorious gangster Charlie (Sean Pertwee) has lasted longer than his marriage and yet it is this long standing friendship which has the potential to destroy everything which Jo cherishes.

Jo Saint-Clair’s emotional odyssey and his potential for growth coupled with an inherent destructive instinct distinguishes this series from the American shows it’s trying to emulate. The death of his wife compounds his isolation and self hatred but also presents an opportunity for redemption. Attempting to reconcile with his daughter, Adèle (Heida Reed), after years of absence Jo decides to walk a new path in the hope he will become the father he should have been all along. Aided by a nun (Jill Hennessy), Jo fights a tortuous battle with demons he has harboured throughout his life and faces an imminent war with the forces of darkness who are terrified at the prospect of his being cleansed of their influence.

The crimes featured in JO are motivated by issues central to the contemporary French experience. Peeling back the city’s glamorous veneer JO places the less savoury aspects on show for the whole world to see. Glittering catwalks, governmental palaces, and refugee camps conceal a Paris which does not appear on any tourist destination map. Murders may motivated by greed, lust, or a desire for revenge but in JO each case has a distinctly Gallic tinge. Amongst the killings investigated in the course of this series’ run are the death of a researcher into French women deported to Auschwitz and the murder of a supermodel on the Eiffel Tower.

A glossy visually arresting series, JO has an number of familiar faces in its cast, including; Tom Austen (The Borgias), Geraldine Chaplin (Doctor Zhivago, Nashville) Adrian Dunbar (Hear My Song, Cracker), Orla Brady (Poirot), Sean Pertwee (Event Horizon) and Jill Hennessy (Crossing Jordan).

With a tightly controlled central performance from Jean Reno, JO is a series that takes us on a whistle-stop tour of Paris’ most sensational locations, and its most depraved, but never shifts its focus from the story of a man who will always be enslaved by anguish..

JO is available to buy from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00CVVH2IY/ref=s9_simh_gw_p74_d0_i1?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=131AB4XM61T0EJGX52V3&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=418445227&pf_rd_i=468294