12 August 2017
The main characters and stars in most police dramas are the head cop and his or her assistant. The main cop in this drama is Bertrand Molina, the Police Commandant in Lyon’s national police station. His assistant is Camille Guerin, a bright, young, energetic woman. But the central focus is on a grieving family victimised by a crime, the disappearance of their teenage daughter. In particular we see Florence Morel as she deals with the intense difficulties of conflicting emotions. She’s the mother of Léa, the missing girl. The story also follows a series of shattered illusions for the family. Florence thought she knew Léa, the little girl of the family she had always loved and protected. Naturally, this Léa is real, but so is another kept hidden from her parents by Léa, a shadow self that will bring her great trouble.
At one point as the police investigation deepens Florence confesses to Sophie (her good friend, workmate and Léa’s godmother):
“I don’t know my daughter anymore. She hid so much from us.”
Florence is right, as Léa was not upfront at all. For a 16 year-old-girl who disappears on the eve of her 17th birthday she had quite a bit on her plate: a secret boyfriend whom she’s been dating and loving physically for six months; cocaine use and probable dealing (as Léa had loads of extra money her parents were unaware of); an expensive hobby on the sly — Formula FR racing; a brief affair with a married man (manager of the racing circuit); and dropping out of school recently.
At home Léa is normal, an ordinary teenager interested in clothes, boys, pop music, etc. She’s loving to her parents and siblings, to her older brother Thomas (19) and her younger sister Zoé (10). She’s happy and loved at home. But beyond the family she’s been living fast and furious. Too fast for a sixteen-year-old, and it’s this life that will endanger her.
This paints a negative portrait of her. But to those who know her it’s all positive. She’s beautiful, charming, outgoing, affable, funny, fun and loving. Though she’s vain like any teenager, obsessed with how she looks and how others perceive her, she isn’t selfish and stuck up. She’s got a good heart and shares it with others. It’s why she’s so loved and popular. Léa is in love with life.
The day is special when the drama opens, the day before Léa’s 17th birthday. She will go out tonight with friends to celebrate. They’ll go to a rock concert in the park and to an all-night club afterwards. Thomas is to chaperone her through the night and Léa’s curfew is 4:00 a.m., quite liberal. Her birthday party will be tomorrow at home with the family. But something goes wrong. Through a series of confusing and conflicting events Léa disappears. In the aftermath it’s established that Thomas was with her for most of the night. So was Romain, her boyfriend. They were at the rock concert together. Chris, her cousin and best friend, was with her too.
Julien, Léa’s father, was out all night at a poker game. He and his older brother Jean are co-owners of a bistro called Chez Morel & Fils in town. It’s popular and always busy, and of course it’s been a hangout for Léa for most of her life. Thomas works there part-time off and on, and so does Chris. So it’s truly a family-run restaurant.
4:30 a.m. now, the morning after, and Julien has come home, his poker game finished. Thomas is next. Where’s Léa? Thomas left her with friends after the concert. He thought she’d come home with them or maybe stay with Chris. Florence is confused. Why then didn’t Léa call from her smartphone? It isn’t like her to forget and miss a curfew. Florence tries reaching her. Nothing, only Léa’s recorded voice.
“Come back to bed,” Julien says, and Florence does. But of course she can’t sleep. It’s now after 5:00 and she calls Jean (her brother-in-law, father of Chris) to find out if Chris came home. She did. Is Léa there? No, she isn’t. Jean hands the cell phone to Chris. In a groggy, sleepy voice Chris tells Florence she last saw Léa with Romain. “Who’s Romain?” Florence wants to know. He’s the boyfriend Léa has been clandestinely seeing for six months.
Julien and Florence Morel visit Romain’s family home later that morning. Romain’s mother knows Léa, but Léa’s parents don’t know Romain. His mother looks surprised at the news, realising Léa hasn’t told them. At any rate, Romain got in very early this morning, so he and Léa are probably upstairs. The mother says she’ll go and wake the lovebirds. But there are no lovebirds, only Romain. He looks groggy too. Yes, he was with Léa at the concert. But no, he left her after that. He thinks she then went to a club called Le City with a friend. What friend? It’s a blur in Romain’s mind. He can’t remember. He drank too much.
So this is the prelude. Many friends, a night of partying, an errant chaperone, a wayward boyfriend, a lost girl, worried parents. Of course it’s the worst waking nightmare for any parent — a child gone missing, suddenly vanished without a trace.
Where is Léa? Why doesn’t she call? Worrying, frightening, harrowing, sickening, traumatising. What can you do apart from hope or pray?
You can go to the police. Of course Julien and Florence do. They go after visiting the park where the concert was held last night. They also go to Le City to see if Léa may still be there (drunk or sick). She’s not. At the police station they leave a photo of Léa with the desk clerk. He puts it into the computer with information about her.
About five hours have now passed. No word from Léa.
The plot is complex with many overlapping bits of evidence. Of course this is usual in crime dramas, as it keeps everyone guessing, including the police. Many suspects and complicated motives. At first it’s a search for a missing person. But everyone fears it could become a murder investigation. Was she abducted and molested? Was she robbed? Was she kidnapped and murdered? If so, why?
The family put up missing-person posters of Léa around the city. Her photograph is there (bright smile, long blonde hair) as well as a number to call. Some objects of hers are found in a bag in the park. The police photograph them. Later her smartphone is found in a different location in the park.
There are some discrepancies in the timeline of Julien’s whereabouts after the poker game. He’s the first person brought in for questioning. He’s not arrested but held and vigorously grilled. He is none too pleased. Suspicion of incest? This adds to his rage and frustration. While the killer is at large, if there is one, the police are treating him like a criminal. His anger is monumental and he’s almost booked for assault, as under questioning he tries to strike Bertrand Molina, the head cop.
Julien is released. The complication in his testimony had to do with a secret he wanted kept from the world, especially from Florence. He had a mistress in the past. He doesn’t now but she wouldn’t let go. She was drunk and disorderly that night and came to the restaurant in the early hours long after it was closed. Julien was there and had to deal with her. He drove her home. It took time. Someone across the street witnessed this from an upstairs window. That person notified the police. It’s why Julien’s original story didn’t add up.
This pattern of dodgy alibis and missing information will dog the investigation for several more weeks. The circle of doubt and suspicion will close in on many more people, some in the family, some not. Throughout it all Florence and Julien will try to maintain their sanity. It isn’t easy. They quarrel and make accusations. Guilt and remorse make them say things they normally wouldn’t. Their marriage begins to fracture. Julien is obsessed with the case and can no longer trust the police. He investigates, or tries to, independently, inadvertently hindering the efforts of the police. Meanwhile Florence can’t concentrate at work (she’s a bureaucrat in the City Hall Planning Department). She drinks too much — more than usual. She has migraines and cannot sleep. And even if she manages to sleep she awakens abruptly, panting and sweating from nightmares.
One hesitates to say more, because there’s quite a bit more. Be good to yourself and see it for yourself.
My favourite male character is Bertrand Molina, the police chief. He’s low-key, meticulous, deliberate. Highly intelligent and logical, he rarely gets excited. He’s also superb at his job, even though this criminal case has had many false leads and dead ends. The pressure mounts on him as the weeks pass because the case has become high profile and the media want answers. His bosses do too. Meanwhile his personal life is rocky as well. His ex-wife in Paris (Karine) can no longer handle their teenage daughter Rose, so Karine sends her down to Lyon to move in with Daddy. Trouble is, Daddy himself has just been relocated to Lyon from Paris. He himself has barely unpacked in his new flat when Rose arrives. There’s only one bed, so Rose will have it. Daddy therefore sleeps on the sofa, bad for both his back and sleep.
As for female characters, the two I like most are Florence and Camille (assistant to police chief Molina). The actress who plays Florence (Alix Poisson) is wondrous. There’s nothing false about her character, her anguished scenes of grief bringing her close to breakdown. She loved Léa. It’s so sadly plain. She can’t handle the card fate has handed to her and her family.
Camille is wonderful too. She can be fiery, which is good for Molina. She’s very perceptive and able to do what Molina can’t — see things from a woman’s perspective, her questioning of subjects better than his, more probing and psychological, less by the book. Camille’s personal life is disordered too. She has broken up with her boyfriend because he’s a jerk. They must have shared a flat together, because now some of his clothes are left in plastic garbage bags in her office in the police station. It embarrasses her, but that’s the current situation for whatever reasons. She also has an eating disorder, it seems. She’s a bit chubby and is always munching. A stress reliever probably, but she knows it’s bad for her health and figure. She’s got personality and feels like a real person, not an actress playing a character.
As mentioned, the series is detailed, complicated, intricate, complex. Many police dramas are, or try to be. This one works for me, the emotion authentic, especially the heartbreaking grief within the Morel family. For days afterwards I was still thinking about these people, worried for some of them and anxious. It turned out I cared about them, as if I had known them personally. A sign of great art of course.
Five stars aren’t enough, but it’s all I could give.
Incidentally, Lyon looks beautiful. It’s one of those places in France I have yet to see, but having watched this beautiful series twice I’ll put it on my travel to-do list with Venice, Vienna, Prague and a few other must-see cities in Europe. Lyon vaguely reminds me of Strasbourg.
Lastly, the music. It’s excellent: minimalist, moody, edgy, perfect. More cinema from Charlotte Brändström, please, director of this superb series.