We shouldn’t be surprised that the French TV series Les Revenants seems so different, with an intriguing narrative and elevated production values. French cinema has long been a world leader regularly trouncing the tired and commercial dross that Hollywood normally secretes and boasts some of the most highly skilled technicians anywhere around.
The only surprise for viewers on the islands of Britain and Ireland surely is that Les Revenants is being shown on Channel 4, a channel that eons ago gave up any pretence of being relevant or cutting edge and has consistently failed to deliver any self-produced programming worthy of comment.
Virtually every scene of the French drama must make British TV executives cringe and squirm as it only highlights their lack of culture and inability to create meaningful and thought provoking drama with the minimum of fuss and resource. The series really belongs on BBC4, but I suppose we must applaud Channel 4 in at least beginning to face up to their own inadequacies.
Back to the series itself, Les Revenants is fresh in its approach to a Zombie-like theme and in the look and feel of the production uses a ‘magic hour’ aesthetic and a quirky French Alps location to create a Twin Peaks-style otherworldliness that perfectly expresses the theme. Form and function intertwine and enhance each other in the unfolding of the individually twisted narratives.
In Les Revenants the dead do not know they’re dead. In one flashback sequence Simon tells his bride to be ‘We can sleep when we’re dead’ and it’s the passive, dream-like nature of these ‘Zombies’ that make them all the more sinister and insidious in the viewer’s imagination. This really is something we haven’t seen on TV before.
And here we stumble on the real existential surprise of the series. The returned simply appear to want to be normal, to return to their previous lives and take up everything as it was before their demise. You only have to visit a cemetery in any town anywhere on a mother’s day or a father’s day to realise that there’s nothing more commonplace in life than death.
Death and its certainty is one of the main traits of being human. Here lies the freshness and waking dream horror of Les Revenants. When the dead stop being dead, humans stop being human.