French Television Comes of Age with Beguiling “The Returned”.

The Returned.

The Returned.

One of the things that the French crit­ic Roland Barthes was refer­ring to in his Mytholo­gies (1957) was the assump­tion that going to the­atre was bet­ter for you than going to the cin­e­ma. And that best of all was read­ing a book. The myth being, that some things are nec­es­sar­i­ly bet­ter for you than others.

It was in France that Le Cahiers du Ciné­ma was launched as a reac­tion to that. And from there, the French New Wave of Truf­faut, Godard, Rohmer, Demy and Chabrol emerged.

Hotel Costes.

Hotel Costes.

Equal­ly, they refused to snig­ger at pop music.  From Serge Gains­bourg and Fran­coise Hardy to Daft Punk and Stéphane Pom­pougnac – and if you’ve yet to dis­cov­er the laid­back seduc­tive­ly louche lounge world of Hôtel Costes, then lucky you. It awaits. You can begin here with this video from Hôtel Costes 15.

But for what­ev­er rea­son, the French have always refused to look at tele­vi­sion oth­er than from a lofty, dis­dain­ful height. Iron­i­cal­ly, they’ve always viewed it in much the same way that the rest of the world used to regard cin­e­ma. So The Returned is a wel­come cor­rec­tive to an unchar­ac­ter­is­tic prejudice.

The series revolves around a school bus that has crashed over a cliff and the sto­ries that emerge as the dead chil­dren re-sur­face as if noth­ing had hap­pened. The rea­son that it all works so well is that every­thing is played absolute­ly straight.

It’s a mil­lion miles away from any of the hor­ror genre gore and blood fests that have slipped into vogue of late. What it’s clos­est to is prob­a­bly Break­ing Bad’s first two and best series’. But with­out any of the thriller ele­ments that came alas to dom­i­nate the latter’s lat­er episodes.

Twin Peaks, Fire, Walk With Me.

Twin Peaks, Fire, Walk With Me.

Like Break­ing Bad, it asks what would you do if your dead daugh­ter sud­den­ly turned up four years after her death? Real­ly. How would you react?

The oth­er obvi­ous touch­stone, as is invari­ably ref­er­enced, is Twin Peaks. Which isn’t ter­ri­bly fair, as unsur­pris­ing­ly it is in no way as visu­al­ly or as son­i­cal­ly dar­ing. But then again, what is?

That caveat aside, there is a sim­i­lar­ly eerie air to events here. And it real­ly is an impres­sive­ly cin­e­mat­ic piece of work.

The Returned.

The Returned.

That it’s not quite suf­fi­cient­ly Lynchi­an is hard­ly the most damn­ing thing you could hurl at a direc­tor. It’s com­fort­ably the best thing you’ll see on tele­vi­sion this year.

The Returned began on Chan­nel 4 last week­end. But don’t wor­ry if you missed the first episode. It won’t make you any the less wis­er about what’s going on. And you will regret it if you don’t start tun­ing in.

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