I’m currently on Season 5 of this series, which ran for 6 seasons on French TV. Set in the fictional town of Villeneuve during the years of the German occupation and directly afterwards, it is simply outstanding – one of the best television series I have ever seen.
Daniel Larcher is a physician who also serves as deputy mayor, a largely honorary position. When the regular mayor disappears after the German invasion, Daniel finds himself mayor for real. His wife Hortense, a selfish and emotionally-shallow woman, is the opposite of helpful to Daniel in his efforts to protect the people of Villaneuve from the worst effects of the occupation while still carrying on his medical practice. Daniel’s immediate superior in his role as mayor is Deputy Prefect Servier, a bureaucrat mainly concerned about his career and about ensuring that everything is done according to proper legal form.
Daniel’s brother Marcel is a Communist. The series accurately reflects the historical fact that the European Communist parties did not at this stage view the outcome of the war as important–it was only “the Berlin bankers versus the London bankers”…but this is a viewpoint that Marcel has a hard time accepting.
In addition to his underground political activism, Marcel works as a foreman at the lumber mill run by a prominent local businessman, Raymond Schwartz. A strong mutual attraction has developed between Raymond and Marie Germain, a farm wife whose husband is away with the army and is missing in action.
Much of the movie’s action takes place at the local school, where Judith Morhange is the (Jewish) principal and Lucienne Broderie is a young teacher. Jules Beriot, the assistant principal, is in love with Lucienne, but hopelessly so, it seems.
German characters range from Kurt, a young soldier with whom Lucienne shares a love of classical music, all the way down to the sinister sicherheitdienst officer Heinrich Mueller. The characters include several French police officers, who make differing choices about the ways in which they will handle life and work under the Occupation.
The series does a fine job of bringing all these characters–and many more–to life. Very well-written and well-acted, well-deserving of its long run on French television. Highly recommended.
In French, with English subtitles that (unlike the case with many films) are actually readable. Season 1 is available on Amazon streaming, and seasons 2-5 are available there in DVD form. MHZ Networks is another available source for the series. (Season 6, which I believe is now running in France, is not yet available in translation.)
Not to be missed.
3 thoughts on “Video Review: A French Village”
Interesting. Have you ever read Helen MacInnes’ novel, “Assignment in Brittany?”
It was published in 1942 and I have read that many American soldiers searched for the fictional village from the novel. It is one of my favorites.
Years ago, my wife and I talked about retiring to French village, probably further south.
I’ll look for the series.
Re-reading my review, I’m not very satisfied with it….afraid it may give the impression that this series is basically a soap opera. It does have soap-opera elements, to be sure, but it’s at the core a very serious piece of work, dealing with human behavior and moral dilemmas in difficult circumstances. Should Daniel have taken the job of mayor in the first place?…when is it allowable to collaborate with evil, to at least some degree, in the hope of minimizing the damage? Which people will go along, which will resist, which will take advantage? When is violent resistance justified when it will lead to violent retaliation?
Arthur Koestler has written about ‘the tragic and the trivial planes’ of life. As explained by his friend, the writer and fighter pilot Richard Hillary:
“K has a theory for this. He believes there are two planes of existence which he calls vie tragique and vie triviale. Usually we move on the trivial plane, but occasionally in moments of elation or danger, we find ourselves transferred to the plane of the vie tragique, with its non-commonsense, cosmic perspective. When we are on the trivial plane, the realities of the other appear as nonsense–as overstrung nerves and so on. When we live on the tragic plane, the realities of the other are shallow, frivolous, frivolous, trifling. But in exceptional circumstances, for instance if someone has to live through a long stretch of time in physical danger, one is placed, as it were, on the intersection line of the two planes; a curious situation which is a kind of tightrope-walking on one’s nerves…I think he is right.”
In this series, the Tragic and the Trivial planes co-exist…day-to-day life intermingles with world-historical events. And the smallness of the stage…the confinement of the action to a single small village….works well dramatically, for the same reason that (as I have argued previously) stories set on shipboard can be very effective.
Can anyone compare this to “Heimat?”
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