Director: Hervé Hadmar
Cast: Thierry Lhermitte, Marie Dompnier, Laurent Lucas, Jan Hammenecker, Catherine Mouchet, Roxane Duran
Running time: 6 x 52 minute episodes
The first thing one notices about Marc Herpoux and Hervé Hadmar’s crime drama WITNESSES is how damn cold it all looks. Each of the series’ six episodes is littered with vast, swooping ariel shots of the little costal town the series takes place in. Everything is smothered in a sombre hue of green-ish grey, whilst the town itself is trapped between a roaring sea and desolate countryside. A beautiful sense of isolation is crafted here, and spreads virus-like into the story and characters of this mysterious and wonderful post-noir police procedural.
WITNESSES tells the story of Paul Maisonneuve and Sandra Winckler, two police officers, one a retired loner with a horrific past and the other a near-paranoid insomniac, having to join forces in an attempt to discover the truth behind a series of crimes involving dead bodies being displayed caricature-like in show homes. Paul is implicated in these crimes, and is forced out of his dark past to confront this case, as well as uncovering why Sandra, his former student, chooses to be aloof and distant around him.
That fusion of drama both in and out of the two lead character’s lives might not be anything new in crime drama, but here it’s portrayed in an enticing manner, leading the audience deeper and deeper into this vague, dark world in order to discover more. Thierry Lhermitte and Marie Dompnier’s sublime acting surely play a part in how hooky WITNESSES is. They both play such unlikeable characters, both of which are galvanised by Paul and Sandra’s initial distrust for each other as the series begins, but you can’t take your eyes off them. The dramas they encounter when not busily trying to prevent more and more bodies being wrenched from their graves for display purposes may add little to the plot as a whole, but it does mould their characters somewhat into individuals we may empathise with.
Arguably, the plot is what defines WITNESSES. WITNESSES doesn’t seem to add anything drastically unique to crime drama, and its plot, whilst definitely enjoyable to see unfold, does have a run-of-the-mill catch-the-culprit-in-time feel to it. But set against the gorgeously gloomy backdrop of Le Tréport, the story gains some idiosyncratic atmosphere, and the end result is something that’s produced with care and thought, making WITNESSES all the more watchable. Across the six episodes, the story pulls enough tricks and twists that could keep novices guessing till the very end, but experienced watchers of these noir rime thriller may piece the various puzzles WITNESSES throws at its audience quicker than some.
WITNESSES may not be to everyone’s tastes. Its dry, humourless plot, morose characters and isolated visuals don’t exactly make for the warmest of viewing. But WITNESSES has such style in its production values, such class in its execution and such rawness in its performance. You may find yourself having a hard time not getting sucked into this show, because what WITNESSES may lack in the originality of its crimes, it makes up for with a deft sense of punch and flair.
WITNESSES is out in the UK now, buy your boxset here!