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Marseille Season 1 (2016)

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Liberté Égalité Paternité

The first French series to be commissioned by Netflix, Marseille brings a welcome level of quality in a traditionnaly somnolent French TV production, based on formulaic WW2 dramas and unconvincing police procedurals. It relies on the dynamic between its co-stars, the titular city mayor Robert Taro (heavyweight Gérard Depardieu) and his ambitious deputy Lucas Barres (Benoit Magimel). A mostly constant cast gravitates around them during the eight episodes of the season, their switching affections and allegiances being the focus of the plot.

What Marseille does very well is showing how sordid and petty local politics can be, under the thin varnish of democracy. Knifes are planted in the back of allies, constant suspicion of misconduct drive an ever-switching coalition game, dirty laundry is exposed in the press and connections with the local mafia are key to a political career. Not surprisingly, women are those who suffer the most, be them wifes, daughters or mistresses, with the exception of the one power bitch (Nadia Farès, good).

At the end there are no winners, the pursuit of power being at the cost of what one holds dearest, be it revenge, love, self image or power itself. There will always be someone to covet one’s threatened dominion and get away with it until he or she is destroyed when the time comes. Depardieu, the elusive sacred monster of French cinema, is great from start to end. Welcome home, Gérard.

Devoid of apocalyptic conspiracies (Homeland), West Wing prophecies (House of Cards) or even dystopian cut-throats (Revenge), Marseille matter-of-factly states after Pericles than an empire, once aquirred, is something dangerous to let go. Violence breeds violence; power begets power. Viewing advised.

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