Six hours of inexplicably-French-yet-Nordic-noir? Sounds like a hoot. Bring it on.
Witnesses is a six-part crime drama set in Le Tréport, a French coastal town that strangely reminded us of an upmarket Weston-Super-Mare (if you can imagine such a thing). If that weren’t troubling enough, someone is digging up the recently deceased and arranging them in show homes like macabre tableaux vivants of perfect family life. What’s more, amongst these scenes of twisted normality, they’re leaving photographs of the recently retired police chief Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte). Someone is clearly a bit imbalanced so Maisonneuve is called out of retirement to investigate. Actually we reckon that’s the last thing they’d do and that they’d actually keep him well away from the case but perhaps the French do things differently. To be honest, they almost certainly don’t but this is a telly programme so let’s keep our willing suspension of disbelief or this is never going to work. Actually, you’ll need a fair bit of that before this marathon has run its course. Other than that we can’t tell you much about the plot without all sorts of spoiler peril. But we will say that there’s a wolf (he’s in the title sequence so that’s not a spoiler) and one of the characters sort-of-looks-like Little Red Riding Hood so we think there’s some allegory going on here but we’re buggered if we can work out what it is.
But we can say is that it’s very moody and very grey. In fact, the town of Le Tréport is really one of the stars of the show. There are a lot of aerial shots of the place and you get a real sense of the geography. By the end of the second episode you feel you know your way around well enough to do some shopping, play a round of golf or have a ride on the funicular. Yes, they have a funicular. As for the human stars, everyone is pretty good, and special mention has to go to newcomer Marie Dompnier in the anchor role of obsessive police lieutenant Sandra Winckler. She’s not privy to the secrets of the other characters and is essentially the eyes of the audience.
If atmosphere is the show’s strongpoint then storytelling is almost its weak point. We’ve got intertwined mysteries here and over six hours you have to be able to guide the audience a bit. While it all (sort of) makes sense, there are characters that pop up and appear four hours later when you’ve forgotten who they are and turn out to be vital. We’re very glad we watched the Blu-ray and not when it was broadcast over six weeks. The plot also relies a lot on coincidence (always the way in crime drama) and, as we say, none of it turns out to be particularly believable. But perhaps it’d be dull if it was. Because Witnesses is certainly not dull and, if you’re after a challenge and a bit of chilly atmosphere, you’re probably going to enjoy it.
For the record, we can reliably inform you that Weston-Super-Mare does not have funicular and sorry, but you can Google tableaux vivants yourself.
WITNESSES / DIRECTOR: HERVÉ HADMAR / SCREENPLAY: HERVÉ HADMAR, MARC HERPOUX / STARRING: THIERRY LHERMITTE, MARIE DOMPINIER, LAURENT LUCAS, MEHDI NEBBOU, JAN HAMMENECKER / RELEASED: OCTOBER 5TH