Marseille, a Borgen meets Spiral political drama set in France’s second-largest city, is now streaming on Netflix in every one of the internet TV network’s territories.
Marseille, the first French drama commissioned by Netflix, opens with cinematic touches that indicate viewers are in for feature film visuals in episodic television. And the plot twist in this political drama suggests there will be no smooth sailing ahead for the mayoral candidates in the port city.
The series stars French film legend, Oscar® nominee, and Golden Globes winner Gérard Depardieu (Cyrano de Bergerac, Green Card) as Robert Taro, the coke-snorting Mayor of Marseille. During his 20 years in office, he’s been grooming Lucas Barrès (Cannes Film Festival winner Benoît Magimel, The Piano Teacher, Little White Lies), now the Deputy Mayor and Taro’s hand-picked successor.
The municipal elections are coming up and, rather than running for mayor again, Taro is stepping aside for Barrès to assume the mantle. However, before he bids adieu to City Hall, Taro has one last hurrah, as it were, for the city he loves so much: a port revitalization project to be anchored by a casino, intended to bring business into the city, drive the Mafia out, and make Marseille the Shanghai of the Mediterranean.
Except the port committee’s deciding vote comes down to Barrès, and he sides with the opposition. (Oh, the backstabbing!) Not taking this act of betrayal lying down, Taro decides to throw his hat in the ring and run against his once-heir apparent, even if the odds of his winning are slim.
With his mentor now his opponent, Barrès uses whatever means necessary to wrest the mayor’s office away from Taro, and leaves several casualties, some fatal, in his wake. The question that begs answering is why. Why does Barrès turn on his mentor to begin with?
The answer comes in the second half of the series, and watching Barrès concoct and execute his treacheries throughout is what makes Marseille intriguing.
The rest is fairly clichéd and predictable. The young, handsome Barrès beds the beauties with the power to help him. The incumbent’s twenty-something daughter falls for a young Arab trying to escape a life in the projects. The head of a gang from said projects has a penchant for beating up people and torching cars. The local Mafia man poses as a legitimate businessman. The list goes on.
Then there are the annoyances. Certain scenes are simply too hard to swallow. (One in particular had me screaming, with strep throat to boot, “No way would that happen!”) The aerial shots of Marseille certainly give viewers a sense of place, but these become too many and end up feeling like filler. Blank, black screens seem to indicate the ending of episodes, but are instead too-dramatic segues to the subsequent scenes. And the music, whose apparent purpose is to amp up the suspense, is also overdone to the point of being off-putting rather than supportive. (The theme song, though, has a great hook, even if I don’t understand a word of what I think are lyrics in Arabic.)
What makes up for the weaker threads and production devices are the acting by Depardieu and Magimel. Unlike other skeevy characters on telly, Magimel’s Barrès is concurrently repulsive and seductive. And Depardieu commands the screen, comme d’habitude, as the sympathetic patriarch of his family and city, neither of which he can control.
Marseille costars Géraldine Pailhas (Don Juan DeMarco) as Rachel Taro, Robert’s younger cellist wife; Stéphane Caillard (Les petits meurtres d’Agatha Christie) as Julia Taro, their journalist daughter; and Nadia Farès (The Crimson Rivers) as Vanessa D’Abrantes, another scheming politico, amongst others.
Produced by Federation Entertainment, the eight-part, rated TV-MA series is created and written by Globes de Cristal Awards nominee Dan Franck (Carlos, Résistance), and directed by César Awards nominees Florent-Emilio Siri (Cloclo, L’Ennemi Intime) and Thomas Gilou (Black Mic Mac, La vérité si je mens!).
A Netflix Original Series, Marseilles is currently streaming exclusively on Netflix in all of its global territories.