Tuesday, April 14, 2015

French flics shows

French flic/police shows are different. The flics speak bullet-fast, talk argot/slang and yes, some still smoke cigarettes. But among these shows there's one I just binge watched - that's Engrenages or Spiral (it also is translated as 'cogs') as it was titled on BBCFour where it enjoys more than a million viewers. The female captain of the Police Judiciare, Laure Berthaud, runs a team of flic's who we've gotten to know and be involved with over four seasons. Most of all the show is character driven - we care about the villains, the victims and flics who deal with a bureacracy created by Napoleon and try to do their job. They're multi-dimensional, fleshed out. They blunder, they skirt the law, and most of the time try to do what's right in any way they can.
 Laure is tough, the show is gritty and there is glam because it's Paris after all. A lot of the scenes are in the suburbs with high crime. And then there's scenes at the Tribunal,  and in the elite quartiers where the crime happens behind high carved doors.
We go to court and meet head on the lawyers, the judges, the DA equivalents all part of the French Judicial system founded by Napoleon. The show came out ten years ago, and Caroline Proust, the actress no relation to Marcel, said in an interview that no one knew the show would become popular in 100 countries and have a 'huge cult' following in the UK.  'We've aged and well, that's life.' In this season, Laure the captain, is pregnant and talk about the arc of the character! Her role this season shows her more vulnerable than we've ever seen. In case you'll watch no spoilers will be revealed.
Anne Landois, the showrunner, which seems in the French case to be head writer with a crew of 6/7 writers and who confers with the director, the flics as to veracity, the set designer, costumer...a Jacqueline of all trades. Showrunners as a profession are still uncommon in France. She sees herself at the crossroad between creative direction and head writing, as she says. In this capacity, she is in charge of overseeing and developing the series' story line but also of acting as a "transmission belt" between the crew members : screenwriters, set designers, casting directors, actors, directors. Anne develops the story line in collaboration with legal and law enforcement professionals which help make the series realistic. Real police officers, judges and lawyers advise and are often on the set.

At the beginning Anne says she sits down with another writer who developed the series and they brainstorm and jot an outline - like quelque chose that shows the arc and development of each principal character and secondary characters who might pop up from last season. It was fascinating to hear her commentary on process on a French cultural site.
Then she hires writers for each episode of the 12 to write an episode, after that she goes over it with them and writes the final version so it's cohesive as a story/series and captures the same tone. In my humble opinion this season 5 was the best. Two French authors, who write singly and as a team and who I got to meet several times and even dine chez elles wrote episode 10. Even though I tried many ways and in many forms to bribe and coerce them to reveal what their episode would deal with they had signed a 'parler pas' wavier. Silènce.
Needless to say, it was spot on.

Cara- Tuesday
PS Just got an email from the French authors who say 'We should work on Engrenages 6 season but our 'boss' is late so we're waiting for her to end the season's arc and start the script in June.


  1. Cara, Thank yo for this. I am always looking for TV I can stream when I am in Italy. I am keeping this in mind! Glad for the English subtitles. I always have a LOT of trouble with slang, especially cop slang, when I am listening in a language foreign to me.

  2. I love this series - saw Anne Landois speak about it with George Pelecanos at Quais du Polar in Lyon last year - and she said The Wire was a great inspiration for her.

  3. Thanks, Cara, sounds fascinating! I've ordered season 1 DVDs. :)

  4. Marina, wow I would love to have heard that! The process of how they work on
    all the character arcs intrigued me - maybe that's in every show but new to me.

  5. I hope the "we" in the PS was meant to include the creator of our favorite French Private Flic. :)

  6. Pas moi, Jeff. But how cool if I could even sit in on one of their story boarding sessions. Anna Maria and Ev - enjoy!