When the Dead Play House (Series Review: “Witnesses”)

Imagine walking into one of those model homes in a new development where everything is staged to reflect the perfect family life, down to the fake oranges in the bowl on the table, and there on the couch is the corpse of a man, and across from him in the easy chair the corpse of a woman, and a dead teenage girl is slumped over the breakfast counter. Maybe it’s the new way to sell houses in Northern France. Or maybe it’s the latest crime thriller series, Witnesses (Les Témoins), set in the overcast and gloomy northern region of France near the cliffs of Calais and starring the great Thierry Lhermitte in a role tres parfait for this versatile legend of Gallic cinema.

SnapShot Plot

The police have a ghoulish and developing crime spree on their hands when recently deceased people start showing up, posed as it were, in model homes in new developments throughout the area, with seemingly no connection whatsoever to each other. Arriving on the scene is Sandra Winckler, a focused and principled detective (played with deeply emotional conviction by Marie Dompnier). Before she can even sink her teeth into the crime scene, she and her partner make a startling discovery: a framed photo in the bedroom of the model house bearing the image of none other than a legend in the local police force, Paul Maisonneuve (Thierry Lhermitte, at the top of his acting game in this role).

Maisonneuve has been retired from the force after a personal tragedy sidelined him years before. But clearly he must be summoned to the case, in light of his photo being prominently displayed at the crime scene. He himself is a mysterious presence, a man who is obviously haunted by the demons of his past, yet his imperious nature is unchanged. His authority is rarely challenged, which Sandra knows all too well, as she herself has a past with Maisonneuve which is revealed early on in the series. Secrets abound as Paul and Sandra must forge a new dynamic between them to solve these grisly crimes and resolve the past, once and for all.

 

 

Parting Shot

Witnesses is the work of Hervé Hadmar and Marc Herpoux, who are well-known in French television for having created several notable series, including Pigalle, La Nuit and Signature. And Hadmar himself directed all six episodes of Witnesses, with an on-location shoot around the vast chalk cliffs of Calais in the overcast climate of Northern France. Jean-Max Bernard was the Director of Photography, and so succeeded in shooting the climate as such an atmospheric presence in the show that the characters themselves often achieve a chalky patina to their faces, which only deepens the ghoulish effects of the crimes on those among the living.

There doesn’t seem to be an English sub-titled trailer for Witnesses, but fear not, intrepid ones, Netflix is streaming an excellently translated version. Although there were some holes in the plot, and a few scenes during which I may have screamed at the television, “Why don’t you just shoot the guy!?”  or “Oh my God just call for back-up!” this is a tense yet slow-building suspense thriller with plenty of jolts and surprises to keep you wary and guessing until the surprise ending. Note to Self: next time I have to bury a loved one, bring chains and a lock to the cemetery.

Featured Image Courtesy of:  http://www.cine-loisirs.fr/series/les-temoins-3122

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FdhfC3SUkQ

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