A Very French Affair

by evseymour

Picking up from last week’s blog about the Dreyfus affair and continuing with a French theme, I spent last week riveted by series one and two of  ‘Braquo’, or ‘heist’ to give its English meaning.   

A fan of ‘Engrenages’ (Spiral), I didn’t think French cops could be tougher, sexier or plain reckless when it came to ‘bending rules’.  Within a single scene of Braquo, I changed my mind.

Picture the opening:  a policeman questions a rapist in a police cell.  Along with another man, the rapist has raped and murdered a six-month pregnant woman and refuses to reveal the name of his accomplice.  He is big with the strutting attitude.  ‘Whatever, shit happens, go fuck yourself,’ is the general gist.  Without wishing to spoil it for anyone about to order the box set, what one frustrated cop does with a ballpoint pen to ‘help’ the guy remember had me jumping two feet off the sofa.  

And that was only the beginning.  To succeed against the really, really bad guys, the good guys come within a fag paper of behaving really, really badly!  It’s down and dirty and utterly compelling. 

Consequently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the French take on crime drama.  Nobody could fail to be knocked out by the grittiness of ‘A Prophet’ and ‘Mesrine’, the latter based on the infamous real-life criminal and bank robber, Jacques Mesrines.  ‘Alex,’ an outstanding novel by crime writer, Pierre Lemaitre, was my read of 2013.  Brutal in its simplicity, it is, as Sarah Ward put it, the kind of novel that makes you fall in love with crime fiction all over again.   Is something going on?  Are we British writers more contained with our violence?  (I expect a deluge of examples that challenge the above).

It’s dangerous and foolish to label a nation and attach cultural attitudes to millions of people.  The prevailing stereotype that Brits are tolerant, patient in queues, rotten cooks and lousy lovers is as daft as stating that all French are hotheads, (although French demos are breathtakingly energetic) great cooks and ‘fantastique’ lovers.   Does it simply boil down to the ‘vivre le difference’ factor?  Are corrupt goings on in a Marseille backstreet more compelling than corrupt goings on in Manchester, peut etre? 

Either way, I’ve yet to come across a French version of  ‘Midsomer Murders’, although I guess tales of Brantome (a commune in the Dordogne) exist.