Original title Les revenants, directed by Fabrice Gobert and Frédéric Mermoud, written by Fabrice Gobert, Emmanuel Carrère, Fabien Adda and Nicolas Peufaillit, released in 2012.
As with the ghost of Hamlet’s murdered father, we struggle to understand the nature of the characters who re-enter the world of the living in The Returned. Have they come back to right a wrong (the mostly mute boy Victor), to make amends (musician Simon), to finish something that death interrupted (teenaged Camille), or just to resume what got them killed in the first place (serial slasher Serge)?
And are these characters to be believed when they say they have no clue about where they’ve been or why they’re back? Will they prove ultimately to be “good” ghosts, who will help their loved ones or perhaps learn some lesson themselves, or are they the spawn of hell, who will wreak havoc on the living?
The evidence is mixed. In the first episode we see Mr. Costas, an old man, set fire to his apartment in an attempt to destroy his newly returned, still young wife, then kill himself by jumping from the top of the local dam. Others are less freaked out. The reunion of Camille with her mother Claire is heart-rending. And Adèle accepts her late fiancee, Simon, first as a ghost, then as something of a miracle, the father her daughter never knew.
The case of the boy Victor is of particular interest. He shows up at the door of Julie, Mr. Costas’s nurse. We learn that Adèle had previously lived where Julie lives now. Is Victor related in some way to Adèle? Apparently not; it seems Victor was murdered some years earlier along with his parents and brother, presumably by burglars — he has no kin to haunt. So he picks poor Julie, already haunted by her near-death at the hands of Serge several years before (she carries the physical scars as a constant reminder).
Alone among the returned, it’s clear that Victor knows something, appears to have a mission. He confronts Jérôme, an earnest social worker (often a suspicious type) and we learn that Jérôme was an accomplice to the man who killed Victor and his family. This is one place where a character veers close to a trope from melodrama: a bad person who tries to atone by taking a new identity and doing good, only to have his past revealed before meeting a ghastly end. The confrontation is almost a setup to a revenge scene, except Victor doesn’t harm Jérôme, just scares him half to death. It’s as though Hamlet squares off with Claudius in private with knowledge that only Claudius could possess, then sails away to England without raising his hand — our expectations nicely dashed.
There are a number of notable things to look for and ponder in this masterful series: the beauty of the French alps that surround the town where the characters live; the almost sterile modern look to the town, obviously a prosperous place, but a slightly eerie one too, with police surveillance cameras mounted everywhere; the way the returnees are always hungry, as though making up for lost time and calories; the way suicide or near-suicide looms over so many of the characters.
If there’s an emotional center to the series, it’s Claire. Mother of Camille, who died in a mountain bus crash, Claire is separated from her husband, Pierre, and living with Camille’s surviving twin, Lena, who escaped Camille’s fate because she played hooky from that school outing to fool around with Frédéric, a boy also liked by Camille. Claire is also involved in some way with Jérôme. Claire is the “normal” character, reacting the way we might imagine ourselves reacting — shock, yes, at Camille’s return, but also joy — how could any parent not rejoice at a child’s return from the grave, no matter the circumstances?
There’s quite a bit of play around the twinness of Camille and Lena. Ordinarily this might be seen as kind of a gimmick, but it works here. Lena is now several years older than Camille, so they are no longer really identical. This allows the casting of two actresses, which helps emphasize how different they are now. Where Camille is focused and creepy, Lena is angry and guilt-ridden. That fateful day has separated them forever. There’s a couple of great shots of Camille entering the family home and passing a tall mirror mounted next to the front door. For a moment we see two Camilles, or perhaps a glimpse of the sisters as they once were.
© 10 Franks 2015