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A French Village / Un Village Français 1940/Season One

MHz Releasing, which brings European and Australian police-procedure shows to America also brings quality dramas, such as Denmark’s “Borgen,” Norway’s “The Half-Brother,” Sweden’s “The Bridge,” and now France’s “A French Village/Season one”, set right after Germany had won their year-long assault on France in 1940.

The village, Villeneuve, apparently close to the Swiss border, has been strafed, starved and subjugated, now ruled over by petty soldier/tyrants, with the local doctor (Robin Renucci) its new Mayor, its leading rich businessman (Thierry Godard) selling lumber to the Nazis to build solider barracks, as well as the local anti-Jewish faction who willingly turn over Jews to the Nazis.

In twelve 52-minute episodes, we see how these small-town folk exist and how the war, with its shortages and humiliations, impacts on them. There’s the young teacher, Lucienne (Marie Kremer), who lost two of her charges, along with another young teacher she was sweet on, when a German plane staffed them during a picnic, and how she eventually falls for a non-violent German soldier. Add on a Communist worker in the lumber-yard who pushes anti-German propaganda into the mailboxes of its citizens, and the doctor’s wife (Audrey Fleurot) who desperately wants a child, so she tries to keep an infant whose mother died after the birth, but who is contested in this by the biological father. As well as a captured Jewish family who will be sent to concentration camps. And so on. Personal stories, some perilously close to the simplicities of our very own soap-operas but most on a knife’s edge of discovery and execution.

The series is extremely well-written and researched (by creators Frédérick Krivine and Emmanuel Daucé, in addition to director Philippe Triboit, who also commands in his direction). With its stellar cast making it all seem disturbingly real, its value for the French and for us to know their frightening wartime history exposes how any of us will make pacts with the governing devils in order to survive, whether for financial gain for food, and the use of sex (and love) to enable survival.

The two actors from the fabulous “Spiral” TV cop-show, Fleurot and Godard, are especially good, keeping their storylines free from easy emotions and superficial actions. All the acting is superlative, French or German, thanks to quality writing and sensitive direction.

This is season one/year one of a six-year series. Season two is coming out soon, so presumably we may enjoy a long future with the show. Well, let us hope so. You’ll love this show, as well-written, -directed, -acted and costumed as it is. Live and learn as our mothers taught us.