Virtually unheard of by UK audiences, France has its own version of The Wire in the acclaimed Braquo.
In Amelie, Audrey Tautou gave us a heroine whose life consisted of nothing more serious than finding the right man to skim stones with in between living in a Parisian flat on a waitress’s wage. It’s a nice little fairytale that’s the perfect accompaniment to the end of a sunny day, where all you want to do is curl up on the couch. Braquo (French slang for a violent heist), first shown in 2009, with its UK premiere in October of 2011, is so far removed from Amelie that it’s hard to believe that they’re set in the same city.
Braquo shows you the real France, one where they’re too busy fighting to keep their heads above the rushing torrent of filth that is day-to-day life to go skimming stones
Except of course they’re not. Amelie takes place in and around central Paris, a fairytale land where even the people who work in sex shops are more interested in collecting pictures of people smiling and all the world’s ills can be put down to someone being a little too lovelorn. Braquo, set in the more modern and believable Hauts-de-Seine area of Paris (home to the La Defense business district), is the perfect counterbalance. From the moment the title sequence begins to roll across the screen, you know this will be a kick to the nuts for anyone who thinks the French are nothing but foie gras-quaffing, cheese-eating surrender monkeys.
For Braquo shows you the real France, the one where life is squalid and grey and it rains most of the time and nobody stops to skim stones across the river or dream of the fairground worker/sex shop clerk as the perfect man, because they’re all too busy fighting to keep their heads above the rushing torrent of turgid filth that is day-to-day life. Braquo follows four cops, all equally flawed, who, when their friend Max commits suicide after wrongly being accused of misconduct, decide to clear his name no matter what it takes. Sounds simple, right? Except when we first meet Max, he’s just shoved a pen into a suspect’s eye.
It’s not long before Max’s colleagues are resorting to methods just as questionable in their bid to prove his innocence. All this on top of dealing with the crises generated by their own deeply flawed personalities. Eddy (Jean-Hughes Anglade) is revealed to be lusting after Max’s widow. Theo (Nicolas Duvauchelle) is a drug addict and womaniser. Walter (Jospeh Malerba) is a man struggling to keep his family safe from the world he is tangled up in (they’re kidnapped during the first series) and so desperate for money he eventually takes work as a croupier. Roxanne (Karole Rocher), for all her strength at work, experiences a domestic life so lacking in any form of stability that making sense of it is the same as trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle where half the pieces are missing.
Can we stand to watch these unstable and amoral people? Of course we can. Braquo, written by former police officer Olivier Marchal, is the kind of cop show that we want to see. It’s one where our heroes have to deal not just with dirty criminal scum, but the even dirtier officials who stand in their way. It’s the Three Musketeers versus Cardinal Richelieu; it’s Valjean against Inspector Javert. That classic French tale of downtrodden heroes taking on the all-powerful corrupt. In Braquo, it’s Roland Vogel who is this all-powerful corrupt symbol of authority, standing in the way of Eddy and his friends.
Braquo is the kind of cop show where our heroes have to deal not just with dirty criminal scum, but the even dirtier officials who stand in their way
Vogel, played by Geoffroy Thiebaut, is a brilliant, odious and sinister character whose lust for power has led him to Internal Affairs. Here he will wrap himself up in a dark cocoon of his own making as he seeks to destroy our heroes. This will lead, first, to his dismissal from Internal Affairs, and then on to the moment he kills his former partner, before trying to kill Eddy and co as part of an obsessive, all-consuming vendetta. All of which takes place against a backdrop of the town’s Mafioso shooting each other dead, vengeful soldiers being hired by corrupt businesswomen to bring down ministers up to their chests in the murky waters of France’s colonial past, and transvestite escorts servicing clients in seedy motels.
Braquo shows us the unpleasant reality of life at the bottom. Sure, we’ve seen it all before, but on British streets and in American back alleys. Yet, because Braquo is set in France, the images before us seem more original and refreshing. Whereas an American or British show might seem to grow old and stale over time, Braquo’s offerings, being French, seem more like forbidden fruit; like the Daily Telegraph’s Lucy Jones – who watched the first series twice over back-to-back – the more we get, the more we want.
All images: Canal+