She's lean, she's mean, she's butch-cut buffed and ready for action. She's Rachel Maddow, Cop – and thank God she's on our side. Well, that is, if our side is in the French city of Montpelier. And, no, she's not really Rachel Maddow, Cop; she's Lea Hippolyte, TOP Cop (in fact, Captain) in a not-so-elite squad of ornery officers, known cumulatively as ANTIGONE 34 (ditto the 2011 French mini-series, now on DVD from MHz Networks).
The six-part three-disc set moves like zee queek-silverr with more dangerous twists and turns than the South Corsican roadway. There's an excellent cast of characters with prerequisite sharp-featured Gaelic punims to make the visuals doubly interesting. Mainly, there are three leads. Helene de Soyere, the group's resident psychotherapist (believe me, they need it), portrayed by the beauteous Claire Borotra; Victor Carlier (Bruno Todeschini), a disgraced physician, just released after serving a decade in prison for the death of his wife; and, last but certainly not least, the aforementioned Lea – an amazing characterization by the extraordinary bi-goddess Anne Le Nen.
As their name implies, Antigone 34 is the go-to last resort outpost for the worst crimes imaginable. Perverts and scum are “how we pay our rent,” offers sage Lea to her new partner – the clean-shaven sprout Serge Ravel (one of the show's touche touches of reversing gender stereotypes). Prettified Ravel (Aubert Fenoy) is the role usually given to the cute woman while Hippolyte is generally reserved for the craggy, grizzled veteran. Lea immediately crushes Ravel's awkwardness with a terse “If we're gonna work together, stop ogling me when I bend over.” This Dirty Harriet is in need of a new partner, since her former cohort “ate his gun” one fateful night. Returning after enforced leave, Hippolyte's detached demeanor is devoid of any remorse. This is frowned upon by her coworkers, who never liked her to begin with. But nobody in A-34 really seems to like anybody anyway; it's an eternal clash of surly, bitter, unfriendly misanthropes seemingly sired to offend each other. Did we say they're French?
The show opens with a bang – in more than one sense of the word. A university sex party climaxes with the death of a gorgeous young coed (Jennyfer Chabot). These carnal soirees are biz as usual for the writhing student bodies, who even allow outsiders to pay for voyeur privileges (“They get off watching us degrade ourselves” reports one femme to Hippolyte). Soon another corpse turns up. Is there a serial sex-killer on campus? Coincidence is the key to ANTIGONE 34, as it soon becomes apparent that EVERYTHING slimy that goes on within the magnificent surroundings of the coastal community is connected. The dead girl turns out to be the daughter of the newly freed Carlier. He wants answers. Lea is still trying to find evidence to clear the ex-con's record for what she figures was a frame-up. She's also attempting to unravel the strange circumstances regarding her partner's “suicide.” Then there's Carlier's refuge: an ocean front gypsy camp run by low level crime lords who were the doctor's former cellmates. What's the elegant plastic surgeon Klein (Nicolas Moreau) got to do with this? Or the college drug mule trade? And this is just episode one.
So, what else is there to be deliciously revealed? Allow me to give you a tantalizing taste. Within the subsequent five installments we learn that the gypsies are involved in a credit-card scam possibly related to the murder of a potential terrorist. Carlier is following one Hubert Prudehomme (Xavier Gallais) – a sleazy post-yuppie billionaire industrialist Realtor who pretty much has his doigts gluants is every pie within cellular distance of Devil's Island. Prudehomme essentially is a baba au rhum Mabuse, and a startling shock reveals Helene – the oh-so-normal-shrink – has an intime passe with le salaud. Meanwhile, Lea divides off-hour time punishing her body – either by rigorous exercise or downing shots till dawn in techno clubs (she also occasionally takes swigs of booze while driving to crime scenes).
Lea and Helene's marginal respect for one another is underlined by the former's comment, “You try to understand the criminals instead of taking them out.” The women are the core of the series, and couldn't be more oil-and-water opposites. Lea salivates taking no prisoners, and is annoyed by rehabilitation; Helene gets through to the ones her coworker do manage to bring in alive – and even gets in on some of the field action. Lea couldn't give a fuck what anyone thinks of her looks, attitude or interpretation of the law; in contrast, Helene plays the girly card with a vengeance – trumping a later ace when she turns out to be the mistress of a 70-year old former rock star. Lea's love life unwinds at the club, via her unnatural attraction to Baptiste (Daniel Lobe) a married Creole customs officer. It's mutual, much to Hippolyte's delight (“I see you're not wearing your [wedding] ring [anymore]”). Their (dare we say) bi-play is highlighted by a sequence of one-upmanship when their impassioned discussion causes them to not notice that the music and background activities have gone graveyard silent. The terrified patrons have seen the burly Custom's enforcer's shoulder holster and weapon. When informed of this faux pas, the officer laughs – explaining his profession. Lea joins in. “I'm one too!” she happily adds – displaying her even larger formidable weapon.
But back to the narrative. Ravel is run over by some Muslim hitmen in the pay of a gang kingpin, who's in the pay of Prudhomme...In the interim, we meet another A-34 duo – Lea's in-house nemesis Perez (Bruno Lopez) and his lackey associate Libert (Fred Tournaire) – two violent crooked cops and the series' most unsavory participants. Perez resembles an evil pockmarked Rahm Emanuel, while thick sadistic thug Libert is, to paraphrase Dian Fossey's landmark work, the ultimate gorilla in the mystery. They torment shopkeepers, extort pay from citizens, run girls, sell drugs and, not surprisingly, were seen at the dorm the night Carlier's daughter was murdered. They are also in Prudehomme's employ. Prudehomme, we also learn, was also screwing Carlier's wife.
Things really start moving when a ruthless 1% anti-science magnate is found frozen to death in a fish locker. This opens the investigation to exhume a million-dollar black market in illegal tuna smuggling (I swear I'm not making this up – apparently this genuinely exists). A pizza delivery boy is actually a hired executioner who blows away a young mother. Her tiny daughter is a witness and is brought to Helene for counseling. At the precinct, the girl embraces Perez – much to Lea's dismay. Why? Perez's wife (Vanessa Liautey) is the child's beloved teacher. Initially, the prime suspect is the dead woman’s husband, but he has an airtight alibi (he’s a bigamist, and was spending the day with his second family). Alas, the assassination was a botch since it turns out the intended victim actually lived next door. Fifi, Lea's new partner (Lionel Erdogan) questions her; she's an acclaimed gourmet cook/author who's upgrading her credentials to true-crime – doing an expose of...yup, Prudehomme. Fifi and the writer immediately have sex since, as we mentioned earlier, this is France. But wait – what's an environmentalist have to do with all this? Or the Russian mob? Why did the journalist really seduce Fifi? And why did Fifi let her? And why is Carlier risking more jail time by performing illegal plastic surgery procedures (which we learn are known as “clandestine operations” – see how educational TV can be?). And why was his patient then murdered? And how did Carlier's knockout professional nurse end up as a lethal high-priced prostitute (hilariously unmasked when an A-34 hacker “penetrates the escort site with a Trojan horse”)?
Many of these answers are clarified at an arranged meeting in Helene's aged rocker's villa, the standout moment being a confrontation with the hooker and Lea, who belts the vicious call girl point blank in the nose with unfortunate Owen Wilson proboscis results.
There are many deaths in ANTIGONE 34; also much screwing (literally and figuratively) and lots of other heinous dilemmas that collectively make up what we laughably call the human condition. The theme of the series is that crime not only pays – but it usually pays well. In due course, some people deservedly get what's coming to them; others do not (Perez and Libert simply keep on trucking). Lea herself bends the rules with the same ease as she maneuvers her pliable torso. The raison d'etre isn't that criminal events are terrible as much as they are necessary. In order to keep society on an even keel, we need the malevolence and corruption. Eventually everything balances out. How can one show be so cynical and ebulliently anti-social? Did I mention it was French?
If there's a problem with ANTIGONE 34 (aptly named, as famed editor/author Frank Harris once termed its Greek namesake as the battler of the law; other interpretations suggest opposed to motherhood and even opposed to life), it's that there's too much information. The interesting folks and their outrageous foibles are often countered by a lip-biting barrage of cliches that serve no purpose whatsoever. The script by Alexis Nolent and Brice Homs (the latter who also interestingly served as the show's art director) dutifully juggles the pros and cons with professional panache (finishing in the plus column by tossing an occasional dialog zinger). What makes it acceptable is the MTV lightning-in-the-bottle handheld rapid-cutting style (which normally I generally find offensive); i.e.,this shit moves so fast that one hardly has time to cherry-pick the God-awful from the awfully good. The first three episodes are directed by Louis-Pascal Couvelaire with such slick jump-cut ferocity that one doesn't even realize what a slow poke he is until the far more slick (and faster) final triad is unleashed by Roger Simonsz. The cinematography is by a talented sextet comprising Simonsz (who worked on the three episodes he didn’t direct), Sebastian Dewsbery, Sarah Couvelaire, Caroline Vandamme, Lara Pugh and Marc-Olivier Perrois unfurls the spectacular Montpelier locations to great advantage, especially the dazzling nighttime photography. The music by Claude Samard Polikar is Euro-trash reasonable; however, the phonetic English warbling of supposed soulful, ironic lyrics laid over the end of each episode made me want to see Paris and die without hesitation, save to retch my guts out upon the hearing of every whiny word (trust me, they would make Rod McKuen wince). I kept hoping for a supplement of the fantastic Le Nen (unquestionably the prime reason for watching the series) cornering the singers and blasting them to smithereens with a snarky “Ta gueule!”
Which brings me to my favorite credit on ANTIGONE 34 – and one deserving endless praise: Bruno Gaggola di Balthazar pour Creation de la coiffure de Mile. Anne Le Nen. Brother, you ain’t just whistling La Marseillaise.
The three platters from MHz Networks are tres impressive! The 16 x 9 widescreen transfer is crystal clear and pops with a contradiction of rich natural and neon-enameled colors (depending upon the time of day). The stereo-surround showcases an excellent sounding board for the cacophony of regional French accents, subtly enlightening viewers of the differentiation between merde and murder.
ANTIGONE 34. Color. Widescreen [1.78:1; 16 x 9 anamorphic]; 2.0 Digital stereo-surround; French w/English subtitles. MHz Networks. UPC Code # 815047017481. SKU # 16748. SRP: $39.95.