An investigator, a murderer, and a monk… No, they don’t walk into a bar, but are three of the lead characters in the award-winning Belgian psychological crime thriller Public Enemy.
In less than a year, Euro TV imports from Belgium have become a triple threat of sorts on this side of the Atlantic. First came the brooding French-language crime drama The Break (La trêve) at the end of 2016, followed by the rather touching Flemish-language supernatural mystery drama Hotel Beau Séjour three months later.
Now we have Public Enemy (Ennemi Public) — the first Coup de Coeur (favorite) Award winner at MIPTV’s (the annual content marketplace held in Cannes) inaugural international drama competition in 2016 — which debuted yesterday in the US.
Set in the Belgian Ardennes, the darkly atmospheric Public Enemy revolves around Guy Béranger, a convicted serial killer of children who is released after spending 20 of his 30-year sentence in prison and paroled into the care of the monks at Vielsart Abbey. Béranger is played by Angelo Bison (Resistance), whose portrayal of the psychopath-turned-religious novitiate earned him the Best Actor in a French-Language Series Award at Series Mania 2016.
The locals in the small town of Vielsart — including the monks — are as upset as can be about a child killer living in their midst. The exception is Frère Lucas (Clément Manuel, The Churchmen), whose compassion is mixed with curiosity about the man whose prison doctor asserts is already manipulating the monk.
Another outsider in town is Chloé Muller (Stéphanie Blanchoud, I Am a Soldier), an investigator who’s been seconded to the town’s small police force to supervise the Béranger operation alongside Vielsart’s chief officer, Michaël Charlier (Jean-Jacques Rausin, Death by Death). He has two young children; she has night terrors and a connection to Béranger that she isn’t aware of yet. Together they ensure his team guards the abbey’s grounds and exits and Béranger stays put.
But soon after his arrival, young Noémie Vanassche goes missing and is later found dead.
The prime suspect is, you guessed it, Béranger. And in the eyes of the parents and public at large, Chloé is to blame for the girl’s murder, as well.
Shaken but undeterred, Chloé digs deeper for clues and discovers a pivotal one. Unfortunately, the resultant police action goes awry and ends in another tragedy.
Since Béranger’s arrival in Vielsart, Lucas’ estranged brother, Patrick Stassart (Philippe Jeusette, Two Days, Once Night), has been on a tear, and the latest incidents have him boiling over with rage. The furor surrounding Béranger has put Patrick’s project to revitalize his brasserie and brewery in jeopardy, which could lead to the closures of both the Stassart family business and the financially-strapped abbey.
But Béranger isn’t the only person causing Patrick grief. His other brother, Vincent (Vincent Londez, Les petits meurtres d’Agatha Christie), is a ne’er-do-well and criminal who consistently sabotages Patrick’s efforts at a better life, whether intentionally or not.
With tempers flaring, resentment growing, and townspeople fearing for the safety of their children (amongst other things), getting rid of Béranger seems the only proper thing to do.
Enter vigilante justice.
And more victims.
Dark and intricate, Public Enemy is a compelling (must-)watch. While the crime and police procedural elements move the narrative forward, the various psychologies of the characters bring depth and intrigue to the story. And Angelo Bison is excellent as Béranger — by turns a sympathetic man worthy of a second chance and then evil incarnate.
A co-production of Entre Chien et Loup and Playtime Productions, the first episode of Public Enemy is now streaming in the US on Sundance Now and the Sundance Now Channel on Amazon. It is also available on Amazon Video as a pay-per-view title, and on iTunes as a digital download. New episodes will be released weekly on Thursdays.
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