Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Netflix streaming tip: The French TV series SPIRAL offers cops, judges, (in)justice and some grandly dark entertainment. Watch it!


If you, like I, have been hearing for some time how very good is the French TV series SPIRAL (Engrenages) -- all about (among other subjects) top-to-bottom corruption in government, judiciary and police -- you might as well go ahead and have a look. You'll soon be hooked. This series seems nearly as good, though quite different from, the superb Danish TV hit, Borgen. Having just completed the first season, consisting of eight approximately 47-minute episodes, I can tell you than Spiral is much uglier, darker and more involved with grizzly stuff than is Borgen -- which is concerned with how an entire country, as well as the family of its Prime Minister, is run.

The first thing you may notice, as we often do with European films, is how attractive but-in-the-manner-of-real-people is the cast. Created by (and with most of the first season also written by) Alexandra Clert (at left) and Guy-Patrick Sainderichin (below, an actor whom we've seen in two of Mia Hansen-Løve 's movies:  Father of My Children and Good-bye First Love), the series revels in its characters' hypocrisy
and denial, even as it presents them to us so fully, richly and believably that we end up in their corner -- rooting for even some of the sleazier among them. This is no small accomplishment. The mistakes and misgivings of these people are the same ones we so often possess -- husband/wife differences (sometimes rather enormous), loyalty to a friend vs loyalty to the truth, ambition and how far one can go in stalking it -- so the hot water the characters sometimes jump into may seem to us a little too comfortably warm and cozy.

The series is based around a particular police department in Paris and the female captain who runs it (a smart and sassy Caroline Proust, above, left), the judge (Philippe Duclos) and the prosecutor (played by sweet hunk Grégory Fitoussi, below, who's currently in the new World War Z) who work with the police -- the French system is quite different from ours, and part of the enjoyment of the series comes from learning about this -- and the various criminal cases that occupy these three in tandem.

We follow not just one crime, but several simultaneously that weave in and out and sometimes connect to the personal lives of our not-quite heroes. This gives us the chance to see all these characters, including some vicious criminals, in various situations that help them grow more understandable and real as the series wends onward.

Sprial is definitely a police procedural, but it's also much more: a character study, a slice of life (high to low) and a look at Paris from a view that tourists never get near (if they're lucky). Some cases move quickly to some form of settlement and justice (or injustice); others takes their time. Perhaps the most interesting character on view is the gorgeous redheaded defense lawyer (Audrey Fleurot, below) whose ambition seems as limitless as her motives are opaque.

The series opens with the remains of a grizzly murder of a formerly beautiful and now horribly disfigured young woman. What really happened we learn only at the close of this season, but the horror and guilt spreads outward and upwards into more than the season will hold. There will be further explorations to come. Yet one does not leave these episodes (or the entire season itself) feeling empty-handed and cheated as did viewers of the U.S. remake of the Scandinavian series The Killing. Instead, we're made aware of implications that keep the people and events spiraling outwards into ever more complex forms.

The Spiral series is smartly written, acted and directed, achieving maximum potential from every situation, performance and moment. There is genuine surprise and shock along the way, and some fervid emotional jolts, as well -- and these comes as often from the exploration of character as from the events on view. The series seems to be deepening as it goes along. I'm certainly going to finish it, and I suspect you will, too.

Right now Netflix is streaming 28 episodes: eight in Season One, eight more in Season Two, and twelve in Season Three.  

19 comments:

kenneth gerber said...

Best thing I have ever seen on a serial TV programme. I have Net"flics" my French friends will get the wit in that. They have the first three seasons ,I.e. I believe it was twenty eight episodes. I literally stayed home and watched six hours of the programme at a sitting,smoking like a chimney ( Thanks !)
The first season was rather bourgeoisie ,which I was really attracted to. Anne Caillon is beyond sexy...
It gets grittier by the season and every episode is a cliff hanger. There are so many cuts ( montage ) as there are possibly two sub plots happening simultaneously to the antogonodts/protagonist of any given sequence .
It is always grounded. The writing and acting are spot on. Most look like character actors of the highest order and that gives the show great juxtaposition ,as the other leads are very comely. The street cops v the bureaucrats ( legal system )
Can't wait to view season four,can't find a steaming video anywhere . Cest la vie et mort :)
Best
Jake Gerber
SF.CA.
USA

kenneth gerber said...

Engrenages. Will write later. Much to say. Best serialization ever on television,if only the motion picture industry could aspire to the heights ...
Touché
Jake Gerber
SF.CA.
USA
Ps. I will be posting a rather long critical blog tomorrow .

James van Maanen said...

Thank you, Kenneth! All that you say is on the mark, so I hope your words will engage some more viewers for Engrenages. And I, like you and the rest of us, wish that Netflix could get the fourth season, too. Evidently Britain has long had it, so clearly it does exist with English subtitles.

Anonymous said...

Can you please find out if and when Netflix will stream Season 4. I have been anxiously waiting...

James van Maanen said...

Aren't we ALL, Anon! (Anxiously waiting, I mean.) I just called Netflix to ask, and, as I expected, the person on the other end was cordial and sweet but could not help. "These things involving contracts and such have to be kept confidential," she explained, which is perfectly understandable.

Everyone I know who has seen this series is impressed and wants to see more, so I, too, hope we'll have Season Four very soon....

The Netflix phone person also mentioned that it has been about one year since the series hit Netflix streaming, so maybe this bodes well as to finally getting the next season.

Anonymous said...

James, Thank you for your effort for trying to find out!

James van Maanen said...

You're welcome, Anon, but I wish it had done more good. At this point, all we can do is wait and hope....

Anonymous said...

I just finished watching Season 4 on Netflix.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anon -- I just noticed this past week that Season 4 is now available, so as soon as some extra time presents itself, I'm there!

Anonymous said...

There is one thing that propre don't talk about quite surprisingly.... And that is the soundtrack...!
The Music of this show is a character itself, it gives insights, deepness and tension and i find it very creative and original.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Anonymous -- and, yes, the music is good. But I don't think it calls attention to itself (which is something proper movie/film/video music usually should not do) and so probably escapes the notice of some of us. But now that I think of it, thanks to your comment, the music really IS good on this show. It underscores what's happening without hitting us like a sledge-hammer.

Next time I watch a segment (probably not until next year, as I've finished everything that's available now), I'll pay better attention to the music.

Anonymous said...

I have finished all four seasons offered by Netflix. Best cop show ever, including The Wire. Characters complicated and consistently true. Well worth putting up with subtitles -- actually prefer to trying to decipher thick British accents

Graeme Bell
Rhode Osland

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for posting, Graeme. Totally agree with you about those characters (although The Wire still remains un-watched by me. But someday soon).

I take it that's a typo in your comment, however, and that you really live in Rhode Island. Unless "Rhode Osland" actually exists somewhere, unknown to me. Now, if it was Rhode Ozland, I'd imagine that the place was located Down Under....

Anonymous said...

If you liked Spiral, I would seriously advise you to try the French show called Braquo (total of 2 seasons, the first one is a real treat). I have no clue wheter the tv series is easy to find in the U.S but I can assure you it is worth seeking.
All the best from France.

PS : season 5 of Spiral and season 3 of Braquo should be airing in a few months in France

Arthur K

James van Maanen said...

Thanks, Arthur -- I just checked the availability of BRAQUO, and evidently we can see it here in the US via HULU. I don't get HULU as yet, but maybe this will goose me into subscribing. If so, you'll see a BRAQUO post here eventually...

David Nollman said...

James Van Maanen, Told by a friend whose daughter is in the film business about this series, we've watched and become addicted. Your review beautifully and articulately captures all the reasons why. Kudos to you. I was impressed enough to post the following to my Facebook timeline.

"Engrenages" ("Spiral") is an intelligent, gritty and enlightening French (yes, I said "French") television series being shown on Netflix that have
and I absolutely addicted. On a par with "The Wire" to which we were and "Breaking Bad" to which we are currently addicted, we highly, highly recommend this series. For a well-written review that accurately catches the salient aspects of the series, check out the embedded link.

trustmovies.blogspot.com

James van Maanen said...

Thank you so much, David. Glad your friend (and his daughter) turned you on to this one, and I appreciate your kind words about my review. I hope we'll be seeing the next season on Netflix before too long...

mark sullivan said...

Yes, definately the best crime series I have seen - (even superior to Braquo, The Shield.

By comparison, most US stuff is now a joke (eg NCIS, etc) and I find it difficult to take a lot of modern British acting seriously. At this rate, I am going to have to make a serious effort at learning French !

It is also interesting that the very best tv (Spiral, Braquo, Montalbano, Romanzio Crimanale) is now superior to the best cinema.

James van Maanen said...

Thanks for commenting, Mark -- and yes, most U.S. TV crime series are a joke (although I've heard very good things about Hannibal).

But I am not sure that I would agree with you that the best TV is now superior to the best cinema. Longer, yes, but not always better. There is still plenty to be said about brevity and the 90-minute format.