Monday, November 12, 2012


Thanks to serendipity and Netflix downloads, we chanced upon this terrific French crime drama that centers on a squad of cops and the lawyers—prosecutors and defenders-- the cops encounter. This is not a Gallic version of “Law & Order.” Unlike “Law & Order,” episodes are not self-contained, but comprise a season-long story arc.
Corruption, central to all great crime novels, movies and series, appears here in its traditional guises (money, power, sex). But what makes “Spiral” particularly absorbing is that the characters find their humanity corrupted to different degrees the longer they are exposed to the seedy world in which they toil. The acting is first-rate. And everyone speaks French (there are subtitles). What more could you want?
Oh, yes, it’s all set in Paris, but not the Paris of Rick Steves. I doubt even most Parisians are familiar with all the locations. My wife, who lived there off-and-on post-college, couldn’t identify more than one or two spots. The series also shares a documentary feel similar to the gritty American crime movies of the seventies (both “French Connections”—the second set in Marseille, “Serpico,” “Taxi Driver,” “Across 110th Street”). Oddly, it also shares much with William Friedkin’s underappreciated 1985 “To Live and Die in L.A.,” a film reeking of corruption, and one where nearly all locations are unfamiliar even to the natives.
At “Spiral’s” heart is Laure Berthaud (Caroline Proust), a police captain who heads a squad of all-male investigators. Unlike “Prime Suspect,” the captain’s sex is not a major issue (times gratefully change, at least a bit). The squad is Berthaud’s family, and like Helen Mirren’s Jane Tennyson, Berthaud has a limited social life. Berthaud is driven, competitive, too headstrong at times, capable of misjudgments, but right in the moments that count.
Her opposite is Josephine Karlsson (Audrey Fleurot), an amoral, chance-taking, often brilliant and always strikingly attractive criminal defense attorney.
Philippe Duclos plays a veteran prosecutor (they’re called “juges” in France), and Gregory Fitoussi a newly minted
prosecutor whose naiveté quickly turns to outage over the compromises the criminal justice system demands.
One warning: the violence is realistically rendered, particularly the gruesome results of killing. I’ve looked away more than once.
The show’s title in France, where it’s a major hit, is “Engrenages,” which means gears or cogs (confession: despite five years of high school and college French, I had to look it up). Whether called “Spiral” or “Engrenages” the series is addictive.


Anonymous MB said...

C'est fantastique! Merci for another hidden video treasure we ordinarily would miss. As always your writing is smart and informed, critical asessments every bit as engaging and involving as that under review.

10:05 AM  

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