Tuesday, 27 June 2017

TV63: Scandinavian Noir 6 (Belgian style): The Break and Hotel Beau Séjour

Two other shows on Netflix must be drawn to your attention. Both are solid European noir, of the Scandinavian variety, though shot in rural Belgium. Walter told me about the first, which is in the French language. The Break stars Yoann Blanc as Yoann Peeters, a first-class detective who will do whatever he needs to do to find the killer(s). On his last case, in Brussels, that resulted in a number of dead colleagues, including his wife. Now he and his teenage daughter, Camille (Sophie Breyer), are in Peeters’s hometown of Heiderfeld, where Peeters and Inspector Drummer (Guillaume Kerbush) are investigating the death of a young African soccer player. Peeters knows this case is not what it it first appears and immediately starts breaking rules to find the killer. Meanwhile his daughter gets to know the teenage scene in Heiderfeld and finds a lot of trouble of her own. 

The Break is full of twists and turns and is, overall, a fascinating and compelling ten-episode series. Blanc is terrific, and his character, Peeters, is unique; infuriating but ultimately sympathetic. The show is full of memorable and interesting characters, great acting and gorgeous cinematography. It had all the makings of a four-star classic until the plot collapsed near the end. It’s as if the writers changed their minds part way or only at the end decided who the killer was, because so many questions are left unanswered, there are red herrings all over the place and the story of Camille is suddenly dropped without any attempt at a resolution, which is such a wasted opportunity. 

Because I couldn’t stop watching and because Peeters is such a great character, I’m giving The Break a solid ***+ in spite of the disappointments.

It was Neil who drew my attention to Hotel Beau Séjour, which is filmed in Dutch and set in a small town in northeast Belgium, near the border of Luxembourg. Lynn Van Royen stars as Kato Hoeven, a young woman who is one of the most unique noir characters ever. She is at the centre of the search for the killer, even though she is not a detective. Indeed, what makes her unique is that she is the victim. Does that make her a ghost? If so, why can a handful of people still see her and interact with her as if she was very much alive while most people see and hear nothing at all? It may sound crazy but it works to perfection for me, because Van Royen is fantastic, her character, like Peeters, is an infuriating yet sympathetic protagonist, and the unique angle to the investigation is as haunting and compelling as any noir TV series can be. 

As in The Break, Hotel Beau Séjour has many fascinating characters (far too many to list), but the character development is better than in The Break, and the writing feels tighter, while the acting and cinematography are again excellent. With a mores satisfying denouement, Hotel Beau Séjour deserves closer to **** than ***+. 

My mug is up for both of these excellent Belgian noir TV serials from Netflix. If you’re a European noir fan, don’t miss either one. Note that both shows are fairly violent.

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