Ever been to Marseille? Marseille is France’s second biggest city after Paris.
Marseille is France’s main Mediterranean port city. My very first trip to Europe was 30 years ago. We flew into Nice, and when the idea of visiting Marseille came up, I was told that it was a dirty city, filled with drugs, hookers, and the Mafia had a strong presence there. In short, way too dangerous.
So we skirted around Marseille. Even though we virtually traversed all of France’s southern coast and coastal areas; we visited Nice, Cannes, St. Tropez, Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Nimes, Beziers, Narbonne, and Perpignan – we did not set foot in Marseille.
Now, Netflix has premiered an original series entitled Marseille, just four days ago, on May 5th. Billed as a tale about the long time Mayor of Marseille who is preparing to hand over the reins to his protegé when a sudden and ruthless battle erupts for control of the city; this may make you think of the Kelsey Grammer show, Boss, about a fictional Mayor of Chicago, which aired on Starz a few seasons back.
We can call Marseille a cousin of that show, and we’d also be forgiven if we attempted to compare Marseille to House of Cards. But in either comparison, Marseille falls way short. Robert Taro is no Frank Underwood.
In fact, Marseille cannot and should not be mentioned in the same breath as those other two series. Starring one of France’s most famous actors – Gerard Depardieu as Mayor Robert Taro, this is a series with high production values. Watch for the breathtaking shots taken from high above Marseille, and the multitude of on-location shoots. In fact I’d venture to say that very little of this show was shot in a studio.
It is almost as if the city of Marseille is a character itself. Only most of these shots are simply transitional. There are no long range zooms taking us from the sky right into a conversation on a park bench.
Netflix wants desperately to gain a lion’s share of the global market, and this French production is the latest of their ventures.
Depardieu is now nearly 30 years older, and maybe 40 to 60 pounds heavier than he was when he starred as a city man who brings his family to the South of France in the wonderful 1986 film Jean de Florette.
But aging and gaining weight is not a phenomenon (or a crime). It is the natural order of things. As the Mayor of Marseille, Taro is more of an institution than a new face on the horizon. His Deputy Mayor, Lucas Barres (played by Benoit Magimel) was hand-picked, and groomed as Taro’s successor many years ago.
Now Magimel has a face that is not unique in fact, if you look at the quad image above, you will see that Magimel looks like a he could be the offspring of David McCallum who starred as Illya Kuryakin in a tv series called The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and/or the British rock star Rod Stewart.
Now Taro is ready to leave the political arena and has worked quite hard to set in motion a new development project as his outgoing gift to the city. He wants to convert a section of the port to an area that would contain luxury apartments and hotels, top-drawer restaurants, upscale shopping, and of course a casino.
All the financials are in place, developers, hoteliers, restauranteurs, and, fashion kingpins were all lined up to put their money on the barrel top. All that remained was the Marseille Port Council approve the bill.
And that’s where political ambition, greed, revenge, and all that usually accompanies this trio all converged and form the back bone of the series. Only Marseille is not just a political drama. There’s Taro’s wife played by Geraldine Pailhas, shown below with Barres,
– a concert cellist who is facing a problem with arthritis. There’s Taro’s daughter Julia, a young reporter, who likes bad young men from the city’s northern district –
that’s the poor section of town. In fact, the show opens with a jewelry heist conducted by a pair of guys both of whom enjoy sex with Julia.
Barres has his own secrets and he is not above sleeping with almost any woman who walks by.
We have a woman, played by Nadia Fares (above) who is highly placed in the city government and it is no secret that she has slept her way into the corridors of power.
We have an assortment of street thugs all of whom carry guns, a Mafia chieftain who lives on a luxury yacht, and tons and tons of backroom alliances, deals, and agreements that change minute to minute. Then there’s the cell phone texts which go on non-stop. The Mafia guy and the head of the street thugs are on the right in the above picture.
For my money the show is nice to look at but isn’t very pleasing. There’s no one to root for. All the characters seem to have duplicity in their DNA. You go from back rooms to bedrooms, from board meetings to bar rooms, and did I mention that the Mayor himself snorts coke.
I think the main drawback of the show is in the writing. You are asked to follow along with the multiple story-lines, subplots, and plotlines. It is hard enough to keep track of all the characters, but when you also have to keep tabs on what is going on – it is a challenge if the writing isn’t up to par.
Maybe the purpose is to keep us off-balance and distracted. If that’s what they were aiming for, then the show is a success. But it is too hard to like a show that does that to you.
The actors were all in fine form. There’s plenty of nasty dialogue and words I won’t repeat. There’s also lots of violence and sex. And when you have a look at the trailer, you will probably be intrigued. If you have a subscription for a Netflix streaming account, then surely you can go for it. Or if you have a yen to visit Marseille, then you should watch this show.
But, as far as the show being satisfactory, that question can’t be answered either simply or quickly. I was especially disappointed by the final episode. For the record, this series, which you can view with a Netflix streaming account, has 8 episodes each running about 42 minutes.
The trailer follows –