Re:View – ‘The Returned’
While you’re waiting for the DVD box-set of ‘Breaking Bad’ this Christmas, may I suggest you try the measly 3-disc set (and they could have easily got it on 2) of ‘The Returned’, the French drama based on an eye-smartingly boring movie called ‘Les Revenants’ (2004)?
So far, ‘The Returned’ shares little more than a title with its original, and is not at all boring, despite being very slow, filled with longing, melancholic looks, and desaturated shots of the all-but-deserted alpine town where it’s set. We all know this town; it seems I’ve been to a hundred of them in France, where people hardly ever emerge from their houses and the local petanque pitch only gets elderly occupants on a sunny Sunday afternoon.
The plot – as much as I’m going to tell you, anyway – hinges on the return of a number of most definitely dead people between one and thirty years after they died, and the subtle, devastating divisions they accidentally cause among those left behind. For example, your dead sister returns from beyond just when you’re now dating her ex – how do you all feel about that?
So, a very straight-faced psychodrama using the tropes of a low-key zombie film to explore a variety of questions about life, death and the heart. But there are surreal anomalies, and no easy answers. But this is no ‘Lost’, the show that started off enigmatically, and ended up being a disgracefully offensive and lazy sneer at viewer loyalty. ‘The Returned’ rewards with treats every step of the way, deepening the situation and your understanding of the characters. The subtitled show has proven a big hit for Channel 4, so the next season pick-up is guaranteed. As is an English-language remake, for those of us who never learned to read.
It’s just as well the show is returning, because the eighth and final hour of the first season takes us to what we now realise is the real start-point of the series. The trick of ‘The Returned’ (and this is giving nothing away) is to examine a moment that I’m absolutely amazed that nobody ever thought of doing before. It shows us the moment that – but we’ll discuss it properly once you’ve seen the series. Come on, 8 hours, it’s not a huge time investment. I never got around to watching ‘The Wire’ even though I knew I’d love it, because it was too damn long.
Still, questions abound about ‘The Returned’;
Why is there always a creepy-looking cult leader whose authority nobody questions?
What is a tiny town doing with a cult organisation anyway? It dispenses coffee to bums, so why did it have steel roller-blinds installed? Were they expecting trouble?
Is that kid the most creepy child actor ever to feature in a drama series? He has the most astonishing way of moving. Will working on this show traumatise him for life?
How did the dead ever get out of their burial places? That cemetery looked pretty bloody secure to me.
Does anybody have a job in this town, apart from the police? They can’t all work from home.
That Simon they’re all describing as a ‘Gallic hunk’; he’s not, he’s a skinny young bloke with unfeasibly huge eyebrows and a good line in looking moody. And there’s no need for him to keep waving his knob about.
Is Adele a bit, you know, simple?
And Claire, is she actually chained to the kitchen sink or what? Whenever there’s a drama she starts cleaning the counters very slowly. Is that her way of coping? Later, she spends 20 minutes peeling a potato. Does she have low blood sugar?
And before we get too far into Series Two, can somebody explain what the hell is happening with the water levels? Up, down, I’m totally confused.
But by God, I’ll be watching. Oh, and here’s that kid again. Brrrr!