Les Revenants, Episode 2: Simon

 Posted by on November 20, 2013 at 8:00 am  The Returned
Nov 202013

The image of le barrage, French for “dam,” is central to the second episode. It was already introduced to us in the first episode as the site of the horrific school bus crash that decimated the village. Now this huge structure becomes the location for another violent death, just as a pair of engineers begin to fret about the receding water level there.



The structure imposes its majestic scale on the landscape, a massive human achievement of architecture over nature. It also serves as a comment on the political atmosphere at the time Les Revenants was shown in France.

Just as a dam is a structure designed to prevent water — a force of nature — from surging onto land, France at the time was undergoing political strife over immigration. Although Les Revenants was not first broadcast in France until 2012, it was based on a 2004 film by the same title, released in the UK as The Returned. In these years France was fighting to come to grips with its immigration policy and the changing face of what it means to be French.

Many would place the opening note of this discussion earlier, with the emergence of the iconic soccer star Zinédine Yazid Zidane. Of Berber descent, he grew up in Marseille. His father Smaïl worked as a warehouseman at a department store, while his mother was a housewife. Zidane was central to France’s winning its first and only World Cup in 1998, when they were also hosts. That French team counted many players from non-French backgrounds, such as Bernard Lama, Patrick Vieira, Youri Djorkaeff, Marcel Desailly, Thierry Henry, Lilian Thuram, Christian Karembeu, and David Trezeguet. The “new France” simultaneously brought pride and xenophobia to the nation. Despite becoming world champions, opinions were polarized. An entry in Wikipedia states:

Retro France 1998 - Mondial -Coupe du Monde

Zidane hoists the World Cup

“The 1998 FIFA World Cup-winning team was celebrated and praised for inspiring pride and optimism about the prospects for the “French model” of social integration. Of the 23 players on the team, the squad featured players who could trace their origins to Armenia, Algeria, Guadeloupe, New Caledonia, Argentina, Ghana, Senegal, Italy, French Guiana, Portugal and Martinique.

” … In recent years, critics on the far right of the French political spectrum have taken issue with the proportional under-representation of ethnic white Frenchmen within the team. National Front politician Jean-Marie Le Pen protested in 1998 that the Black, Blanc, Beur team that won the World Cup did not look sufficiently French. In 2005, French philosopher Alain Finkielkraut caused controversy by remarking to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that despite its earlier slogan, “the French national team is in fact black-black-black.” He later apologized for the comments declaring that they were not meant to be offensive.”

Is it a coincidence that in light of these controversies, subsequent race riots, and attempts to ban Islamic garb in France, that Les Revenants focuses on a slowly failing dam and a village’s struggle whether to welcome or expel people that are at the same time both familiar to them and repugnant?

Barrage revenants


  3 Responses to “Les Revenants, Episode 2: Simon”

  1. This is extremely interesting and very pertinent to the political situation in France. Unless you’ve seen the whole series on French TV and know something the rest of us don’t, however, it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Les Revenants, and it seems rather tawdry to try to rope it in this way. Resurrected dead people as a metaphor for immigrants?

    • Dear berkowit28,

      I must thank you twice; once for reading my post and again for commenting on it. The ratio of readers to commenters of a blog can vary but I think it is not uncommon to see a 100:1 proportion. The Basket of Kisses has had to disable its traffic statistics a while ago, making it impossible to tell if anyone is reading anything, except for the comments and Google analytics which I do not have access to.

      At some point my gratitude must wane and in its place comes my reply. I’m glad you wrote but at the same time I am afraid we must agree to disagree on a few points.

      “Unless you’ve seen the whole series on French TV and know something the rest of us don’t,”
      I am not sure you read my previous post. The series is not new and was screened in France, as well as England some time ago. Recaps are available online and it requires no prescience to know what happens in later episodes but I don’t.

      “it has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Les Revenants
      It’s my turn to ask you: how do you know? Have you seen the rest of the season, or read interviews with the creators? Or are you voicing a personal opinion? I ask because you have not presented it as such.

      “it seems rather tawdry to try to rope it in this way.”
      I am simply surmising that there is symbolism here that may not be apparent to the US-based viewer seeing it separated in time, distance, and culture from the moment in which the original film was made.

      I don’t know. You could call it sloppy, poorly connected, or far-fetched and I might agree. But I did try to connect the dam, the life-force of water, people’s resistance to change, hinting at the inexorable nature of water finding its own level, and the futility of fighting it as a metaphor for xenophobia and racism. To me (and this is a personal opinion) the small town and the dam are viable symbols for conservatism, resistance to immigration, and fear of the creative force that change brings. This is what I am saying in this post (and the one previous), and I believe it to be true. Yes, yes be my answer.

      “Resurrected dead people as a metaphor for immigrants?”
      Totally, dude. What do they symbolize for you? Why would we watch shows about zombies when there are no zombies in our lives? Unless they remind us, at some level, about something that IS in our lives, whether inchoate or something we can give voice to?

      I do not think for a second that dead people popping back into town and eating my pasta, or butterflies breaking through their display cases, have any connection to universal themes of life. So I ask myself, what is it in my life, and that of others, that a returning, dead, loved one would correspond to?

      And so have I written. What would you say? I’m curious to hear.

      • Sorry for the delay, Jim, I haven’t been back here in a couple of days.

        I guess that ‘symbolism’ can be abstracted from just about anything to anything, but I find that your extraction is really pushing it. I prefer my symbolism to adhere closer to the events depicted.

        For me, the essence of “The Returned” is that the characters in question are indeed *returned* loved ones, usually, from the dead. They are not simply “the unknown”, or aliens, who could be a metaphor for immigrants. They are people who were loved, grieved for, and missed – who have now suddenly come back. (There are exceptions, like the little boy Victor, who seems to have died a long time ago and has no one left who remembers him, although even he, in the last episode, recognizes someone who spoke to him shortly before he was killed, and the brother who was definitely not missed by his surviving brother. But even they were known by the characters in question.) They are also not zombies who attack the living, aside from one of them who is simply continuing what he did in life as well (the serial killer). They are people who were dead, and now suddenly reappear, creating all sorts of existential difficulties for those who knew them.

        There have been books and movies before that have contemplated the possibility of eternal life and what that might entail if no one ever died. But I don’t know of any that ask the question: You are grieving for those you lost, who died unexpectedly, and you wish desperately that they never died. But what would you do if they suddenly returned to life, when you had finally moved on? This is the question faced by the family of the teenager Camille and the mother and lover Adèle, and the people who are now involved with them. It’s terribly disruptive, to say the very least.

        The AV Club’s reviewer of The Returned, Erik Adams, has written a good review this week, where he touches on the symbolism in what I think is a more apposite way. I find your suggestion just too generic to be very interesting, I’m sorry. Sure, the French were and are certainly uneasy, and riven, about nationality and immigration. But I don’t see the concept of dead people returned to life as much of a metaphor for the “totally unknown”, even alien, immigrants. They’re not unknown – they were known, intimately. If they’re any sort of metaphor, it’s for something stranger. You claim to revere your lost loves, now a part of your soul; but how can you come to terms with them if they were to return through some sort of everlasting life? A different thing entirely, in my opinion.

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