Sunday, March 20, 2016

Yet more excellent European TV via MHz: Krivine/Daucé/Triboit's A FRENCH VILLAGE

Despite our country's ludicrous array of Trump supporters (not to mention the even more ludicrous Donald himself) and their cries of "Make America Great Again" by tossing out Mexicans and Muslims and -- let's make it clear -- anyone who isn't white, their "great" America remains a country that has never experienced what most of Europe did during World War II. That would be "occupation" by a foreign power, Nazi Germany, who ruled with an iron hand, using everything from intimidation to torture and death to keep the populace in line. It is all too easy to make fun of the French for losing their fight against the invading German army, but almost every other Western and Eastern European power was occupied, too (or worse, allied with the occupiers), not to mention the Scandinavian countries.

What is especially bracing and unusual about the French television series, A FRENCH VILLAGE (Un village français) is how it shows us what occupation meant for the occupied country in detail and precision, with all the nasty ironies intact. What it also makes so very clear is how impossible it was (without giving up your life, of course) not to betray everything and everyone -- from your country to your family to your friends at some point or other in this awful occupation. We human beings have enough trouble being kind and just during normal times. When you're part of the conquered, difficulties quadruple.

As created and (much of which) written by the trio Frédéric Krivine (shown above), Emmanuel Daucé and Philippe Triboit, with M. Triboit directing many of the episodes, the series has now reached five seasons -- only two of which have appeared so far on DVD.  But these 24 roughly-45-to-50-minute segments are enough to give viewers a fuller look at what "occupation" meant than anything from anywhere I've so far seen.

How a populace is convinced to collaborate with its enemy is shown with surprising skill and art. The series strikes me as both historically accurate and also rich in drama, with only an occasional coincidence to shake a bit of that believability. The reasons for collaboration are many and varied, from simple survival to bettering one's station. Two prime components in the collaborative process are the village doctor (Robin Renucci, above, left) -- along with his pampered wife (Audrey Fleurot, above, center, of Spiral) -- who is appointed town mayor by the Germans and must then work out one problem after another.

Those who collaborate for profit is one of the town's leading businessmen (Thierry Godard, also of Spiral), who gladly cooperates with the enemy in order to reap the many benefits. Among the various villains is one in particular (played smoothly and sleekly by the steely-yet-appealing Richard Sammel, above), who takes Nazi sex and pain to new heights (and lows).

Along the way, food -- or often the lack of it -- plays an important part in the proceedings, with pineapple upside-down cake,  foie gras, and a very large bunny (below) among the items used for maximum tension, irony and surprise. In these first two seasons, the French Resistance is only beginning to be felt, with the French Communists who incite this shown to be both leaders and idiots in their insistence on hierarchy and following orders. (That's the Mayor's Communist brother, above (played by Fabrizio Rongione), who also figures heavily into the plot.)

Toward the finale of Season Two, the doctor's Jewish maid is given a quietly stirring and absolutely on-point speech about collaboration that's should be a keeper that is shown to all future generations. There is a constant threat of violence here, and sometime its follow-through, as well. But the series does not milk events for mere suspense and thrills. There are plenty of both, yet the filmmakers are much more interested in the vagaries of human behavior than in the usual guns/guts/gore routine.

Available on DVD (those first two seasons) with some, perhaps all, of the others viewable via streaming from the MHz Networks, A French Village is one of those rare television series that should appeal to history buffs, seniors who still have a memory of WWII, and just about anyone who loves a good tale well told. Click here to see how to get the series now.

Bonus: There are also half a dozen very fine "extras" 
at the end of Season 2 that should prove 
of interest to film and history buffs.

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