Witnesses, Les Temoins, French six-part crime miniseries, review

‘Witnesses’ AKA ‘Les Temoins,’ French TV Miniseries, Is More Or Less Than Meets The Eye [Review]

With some degree of media buzz in the U.S., Witnesses (Les Temoins), a six-part police procedural miniseries from France, is currently streaming with English subtitles on Netflix and other platforms.

The six-hour crime drama (not to be confused with a 2007 feature film of the same name with entirely different subject matter) was a big hit in France and apparently one of the few shows from that country to air on prime time television in the U.K.

Season 2 of Witnesses is scheduled to be broadcast in France later this year and presumably it will eventually make its way to Netflix and similar on-demand services.

“Created by Marc Herpoux and Hervé Hadmar, who both wrote for the French thriller, Pigalle, la nuit, the six-part Witnesses follows the investigation into the who and why behind bodies of recently-deceased and unrelated persons being posed as families in new show homes in the Normandy city of Tréport,” The Euro TV Place explained.

Witnesses stars heretofore stage actress Marie Dompnier and actor Thierry Lhermittee, a big star in France, as detectives Sandra Winckler and Paul Maisonneuve, respectively. Both give compelling and charismatic performances in the drama, and the cinematography in the Normandy area (for once, a French crime thriller is based somewhere other than Paris) is outstanding. Parenthetically, even if you only can pick up a few words now and then, the French language is beautiful to the ear.

The convoluted plot and the ultimate and seemingly forced resolution of the parallel investigations are less so. Each episode ends with a skillful cliffhanger, however, to keep the viewer hooked.

Curious as to whether the six-episode opus is actually worth binge-watching on Netflix? For what it’s worth, it got good notices from the critics.

“The series, which has the singular and gritty atmosphere reminiscent of a Scandinavian crime drama, is darker and more daring that local shows that are traditionally commissioned by the French public broadcaster” (Variety). “It’s eerie with a hint of the supernatural — several witnesses report seeing a wolf at pivotal moments — and paced just right: Those layers are pulled back patiently, so viewers and actors have time to absorb them” (NY Times). “The wonderfully gloomy setting in northern France makes everything seem sinister” (The Australian).

Perhaps one Neflix user summed it up the best, however, by describing Witnesses as “the best show I have ever hated” because of its lethargic pace.”Wonderful production values, actors, character development, and nicely woven plot with a good twist but that said, it was just too darn slow.”

Hate may be far too strong a word, but for the ordinary entertainment consumer in general, when the media hypes up a new movie or TV series (Ronan Farrow’s failed MSNBC show as one example), your BS detector should at least partially activate.

Moreover, the detectives in Witnesses could be the dumbest, smart cops you’ve seen in a fictional crime thriller.

The creators apparently consulted with the make-believe constabulary from other countries because Witnesses seems to incorporate plot points, TV tropes, and/or clichés (a word that has French origins) that you’ve seen over and over in cops-and-robbers potboilers. For a police procedural, moreover, the police procedures at times seem rather sketchy.

[Spoilers]

A prime example: the push-pull and/or back story between the veteran, aloof cop and the newcomer (although the Winckler character is referred to as a “lieutenant”) seeking to prove herself to the senior officer.

A cop entering a dangerous area without backup.

A cop (actually all of them) never carrying a walkie-talkie to communicate with other officers while in the field. Related: inexplicably not using a cell phone to contact Hq. when a “witness” is shot by a gunman.

A business mogul who in episode one is considered a pillar of the community and who predictably turns out at the end to be a stone-cold criminal.

Almost every detective yarn, including Witnesses, also seems to contain a scene where the main character is seriously injured in a physical confrontation with the crooks, but insists on checking himself/herself out of the hospital prematurely to doggedly continue the investigation. Is this some kind of mandatory TV/movie toughness rule? In Witnesses, a bad guy in a pickup truck plows into the slow-to-react Det. Winckler’s car, and not long after she limps out of the medical facility against the doctor’s advice.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing, if not edgy, for once if the cop would tell the ER doc, “you’re right, I’ll stay in the hospital for a couple of days for observation, and then I’ll take sick leave for a week so I can get back to full strength before going back to work.”

Moreover, wouldn’t it be actually more unpredictable if the above-referenced corporate exec interviewed by cops in the first episode winds up actually innocent? This goes back to the Rockford Files, or even earlier, but judging by the movie/TV industry, the jails must be crammed full of evil businessmen who personally carry out or orchestrate violent crime.

How about a twist where the two officers instead continue to hate each other, rather than reconciling, at the end?

At least the plot avoided another old chestnut involving wrongdoing that reached into the highest levels of government.

A couple of other observations about Witnesses (more spoilers) that requires the viewer to suspend disbelief.

How did the prison warden determine who died in the fire before conducting a DNA test on the body and shouldn’t that have been done immediately?

Much is made in the series about how Det. Winckler left the police academy three days before the final exam because of her feud with Maisonneuve, who was an overbearing instructor there. That being the case, how did she get on the force let alone get promoted to lieutenant? For continuity, it would have been desirable for one of the other characters to chime in with something along the lines of “But you came back three months later and aced the exam.”

Witnesses also establishes the fact that carrying only one ammo clip is a bad idea, especially in gunfights. Given the producers credit on this one: This is the reverse of the convention in which the hero often fires unlimited rounds without reloading. Many viewers on social media also noticed that Winckler’s ongoing wardrobe malfunction culminated in the final foot pursuit when she finally had to ditch her improbable-for-a-cop stiletto heels.

Apart from the tacked-on serial killer subplot, digging up dead bodies and dumping them — along with selected items from a retired detective’s personal possessions taken from a Storage Wars-like locker — in upscale, model homes to get his attention: Really? How about an anonymous phone call or text to the French equivalent of crime stoppers instead?

Finally, what was the deal with the wolf anyway?

If you’ve watched Witnesses aka Les Temoins, do you give it up thumbs up or thumbs down?

[image via Twitter]

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