The Returned – Adèle, Series 1, Episode 7
The key theme to the show has been revealed, the townspeople are living in a state of purgatory. They cannot leave. First Toni and Serge, bewildered by the woodland, take to swimming the reservoir. Serge is dragged underwater, while Toni traverses only to find his boots waiting for him. The other escapees are Victor, Julie and Laure who bring the car to a halt once they accept the phenomenon: they shall be passing through the tunnel and across the dam eternally.
My theory – and I don’t think this to be an original idea – is that the town has flooded. The water has been taking lives since the opening episode, and as those lives pass over to the other side they are trapped in purgatory. A world populated with lovers and sisters, brothers and sons. The setting for the show is not in the town nor the afterlife, but a world between the two, where the real and the imagined meet. Well, that’s my best pot shot at a theory.
The ultimate escape route doesn’t seem possible, as Pierre points out “Death is not the end”. While they ‘celebrate’, Joseph and Anna Koretsky taking their lives. Around Pierre there is a worrying velocity and a sense of bloodshed. “Can we have some water?” he shouts as Sandrine falls to the ground. The subtext is brilliant. She is dying and Pierre will help her drown. Is he a Mary Magdalene or a Mephistopheles? There’s a lot of iconography at work here. It is water, after all.
Helping Hand on a hill. Pierre has a dream that the town is flooded, with he and Victor purveying the serene destruction of a lake. It seems Pierre is a Faustian figure, a zealous bearer of the apocalypse and a servant of death. The bunker of Helping Hand neatly describes the paradox at the heart of his character. In one room there are supplies to feed, in the other supplies to kill. Is he a doomsday preacher, or a helping hand, letting people pass over to the other side? I want to say that he is Mephistopheles but the show’s persistence to keep the narrative grounded makes me believe he could be more unhinged than possessed.
We have entered the final act. I know a second series has been commissioned, and I feel there’s plenty of room for a journey-into-hell narrative. Well, depending on how next week plays out. But I wanted to take a moment and talk about the show’s influences. For me, Les Revenants has been a breath of fresh air, not because it has been starkly original, but rather because it has managed to strip down layers of cliché and baroque iconography. The show’s imagery was guided by the photography of Gregory Crewdson. Within Crewdson’s images there is a lot of theatre and folklore – elements associated with 60 experimental film work, and post modern French cinema.
The comparison to Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, which was used by the creators to deliver their idea, is not only because of the stylish twilight aesthetic but rather the ability to rid the drama of fat. Problems that have stood in the way of great fantasy for generations and which continue to haunt in HBO blockbusters.
The unease in the soundtrack further proves this forward march. Much like the show, Mogwai have produced a subtle departure from what has come before. In the music they navigate John Carpenter and Bernard Herrmann. Circular motifs to form a hypnotic, intoxicating effect. In many ways this is a success. Yet the words of Hermann and Carpenter are the exact ones the direction visibly eschews. And as such, when the post rock guitars kick in and the volume lifts, the music sounds misplaced and overpowering. In terms of soundtrack, an artist like Tony Conrad would have been more suited, in his ability to command tone, language and contrast – to add that sense of eeriness and otherworldliness. Notably, I’m thinking of Conrad’s score for Joan of Arc (1968, dir, Piero Heliczer). I’m a music snob, and I’m being picky.
What we have seen in the show is a brilliant stripping away of the hamminess which can come with gothic drama, and a focus on psychological trauma. Which is exactly where the subjective cinema-makers of the Avant Garde were coming from, from a time of Anna Freud, pop culture and endless chatter about qualia. Remember Piero Heliszer made Venus In Furs. However in this incarnation the drama is served alongside the high definition, perfectly controlled lighting, and grotesquely realistic prosthetics. It is as if the creators have thrust a knife into the belly of screen and whispered, Chut, chut, ça y est, c’est fini. Ça ne fait que commencer, “Shh, shh, that’s it, it’s over. It has only just begun.”Tagged in: Les Revenants, mogwai, The Returned
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