‘A FRENCH VILLAGE’ (MHZ CHOICE)
Following the lives of the citizens of Villefranche during its occupation by Nazis during World War II, and examining the moral conundrums the citizens face and which will affect the rest of their lives, “Un Village Francais” is one television show I have no problem proclaiming as one of my all-time favorites. Somehow in the mad rush to import foreign language TV to streaming channels, it’s flown sadly under the radar. That’s disappointing because its insight to the human condition and its examination of the role of personal circumstances in regard to larger moral decisions plays out in a real historical scenario that is touching.
At the center of the village is Doctor Daniel Larcher (Robin Renucci), a committed, but often spineless, man thrust into the role of mayor and forced to act as a go-between with the Nazis. In this role, he tries to make the right decision, while also making the one that protects the citizens of the village. His wife, Hortense (Audrey Fleurot), is so dissatisfied with her life that she takes the conflict and occupation as a surprise chance to change her life, which further complicates Larcher’s efforts, as does his brother, devoted communist Marcel (Fabrizio Rongione).
But “Un Village Francais” paints a wider swath than the Larchers’ tangled drama, wrapping in a number of characters around efforts by the Resistance, both espionage and on the ground revolt against the Nazis. One of the most fascinating among these are the stories of Marie (Nade Dieu), the uncomplicated farm wife who finds herself in a leadership position in the Resistance, and her paramour, Schwartz (Thierry Godard), a businessman whose chameleon-like morality allows him to survive any conflict.
One of my favorite storylines follows schoolmaster Beriot (Fran ois Loriquet), whose charmed view of the world and passion for justice and structure is constantly disarmed by Lucienne (Marie Kremer), a naive young teacher he loves, but who prefers the affections of a German soldier.
The show also spends time with the bad guys, including Marchetti (Nicolas Gob), the opportunistic cop who ends up doing some the Germans’ dirtiest work of all, and the S.S. Officer Heinrich Muller (Richard Sammel), who enters the room as the sadistic Nazi you expect, but exits it as a complicated survivor, who does not so much embrace the principles of the Third Reich, but accepts it as the evil he must do in order to stay alive. The show also devotes a prominent section to the French Fascists, who attempt to seize control alongside the Nazis, giving a deep look at how your neighbors can subscribe to ideologies on a wider level that can devastate you on a local one, and how hard that is to track until it is far too late. And in its examination of the Holocaust, it takes the two basic questions of why they didn’t do more and what exactly they were supposed to do, and puts it to the test, all the while suggesting that World War II was just one point in the history of continuing anti-Semitism.
Running seven seasons, the show comes to a definitive conclusion that reveals the profundity of these years in the context of the rest of the characters’ lives, and what sadness these years wrought to ordinary people. It makes the gray areas vivid in at least our capability for understanding and manages to cast situations that the viewer can see themselves in and question, quite easily, whether they would act any better. The show’s lack of pretension does well to unfold good drama that has rich themes that at heart asks the question of whether evil is something we are or something we do, and also whether once done, can it be atoned for? Are we all not human?
One thing is clear — we are living through times that demand we ask that of ourselves and “Un Village Francais” is a powerful reminder of how what we think of as being in the personal moment can sometimes spiral into larger, more judgmental, tales of history. What we do now will matter to people later.
Originally published at www.berkshireeagle.com.