Much as I admire its’ audacity and ambitious reach of subject, the entire history of World War II, as encaptured in the life of a “French Village,” I hate to say it but this hit European TV series is very hit and miss.
It sounds good on paper. Each season of the TV series will focus on a different year in the occupation of France by the Germans during WWII. And it starts off with a bang, as a group of school children go out to play on a field trip on a sun-dappled day in the tiny town of Villeneuve, a fictional subprefecture in the Jura region of France.
German planes suddenly are seen over head and begin shooting up everything in sight, including the children. A horrifying beginning, to be sure. But then we are slowly introduced to the characters and I have to say I had no great feelings for any of them.
Sure, the SITUATION they are is in riveting, but only up to a point. And the actors all look so similar it’s very hard to keep them and their plot-lines straight. The exception is Robin Renucci, a doctor who is co-erced into becoming the town’s reluctant Mayor.
And he is forced to do many things that he does not want to do within the course of the 10 episode series. Each episode a little under the hour in length. He is actually by his acceptance of the Mayoral position, an unwitting symbol of the Vichy government. His bourgeois family continues to live well as all around him begin to starve due to ration restrictions.
The actors all being dark-haired and dark-eyed and average-looking, it took me a long time to sort out their different characters and predicaments. However, the incredible attention to war-time detail does fascinate. Some one can be jailed for just booing Hitler in a newsreel in a movie theater, for instance.
Then there’s the leftists who want to insert resistance pamphlets in all the daily newspapers. And do. But the characters doing this are all sadly two dimensional.
The Jewish question, and there a lot of Jews in this small town, is pretty much a non-issue until the latter part of Season One. Our understanding of WWII is so much based on the plight of the Jews that that part of the series suddenly springs to life as the Season ends.
It’s a great record of the period, though and I particularly loved the Special Features wherein the actual townspeople these characters are often based on get to speak, in French, of their own real-life stories and they are all hair-raising.
Being set so far out in the country the full impact of the War hits them only gradually, in stages. And it is truly harrowing, as one by one their liberties and freedoms and businesses and lives are all taken over by the occupying Germans.
I am looking forward to Season Two. Maybe this time they’ll have more relatable characters.