Sweaty Gerard Depar­dieu might be watch­able, but Net­flix’s Mar­seille is a hot mess

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

When writ­ing about Net­flix’s new French-made po­lit­i­cal drama Mar­seille, I wanted to avoid the kind of lazy car­i­ca­tures of French life or so­ci­ety that are ubiq­ui­tous to such dis­cus­sions.

Then, 15 min­utes into the first episode, Gerard Depar­dieu’s char­ac­ter shrugs while com­par­ing the strain of a bu­reau­crat’s life to that of jug­gling a wife and a mistress. It quickly be­comes clear that I can’t avoid those dog-eared tropes about the French be­cause, zut alors, Mar­seille makes no such ef­fort it­self.

Ev­ery­one’s favourite spher­i­cal tax ex­ile plays Robert Taro, the em­bat­tled mayor of Mar­seille, whose reign is threat­ened by his erst­while lieu­tenant Lu­cas, played with scenery-de­vour­ing aban­don by Benoit Mag­imel (a Eurosaver menu

Mads Mikkelsen).

Mar­seille also delves into Taro’s fam­ily re­la­tion­ships, life in the city’s projects, re­gional po­lit­i­cal in­trigue, and the crim­i­nal un­der­belly con­nect­ing the above. Un­for­tu­nately,

Mar­seille does not ex­e­cute this rich me­lange very well. At best, it has the dra­matic so­lid­ity of a scan­dalously un­der­cooked souf­flé; at worst, it’s ba­si­cally a sexed-up par­ody of House of Cards.

A fond­ness for sex is among the more well-worn clichés about the French, and

Mar­seille’s sex stats are pretty high – al­though the ma­jor­ity of its sex scenes are com­pletely ir­rel­e­vant to the nar­ra­tive drive. The ref­er­ences to sex in the script are also cringe-wor­thy – such as the sur­real aside in which one gang­ster de­scribes an­other “get­ting a boner” each time he does up his tie, or Taro telling his daugh­ter how de­lighted he is by her room­mate’s promiscuity. “The more she gets laid, the more we see you,” he de­clares, caus­ing ador­ing laugh­ter from said daugh­ter.

Much of Mar­seille’s po­lit­i­cal di­a­logue is sim­i­larly heavy-handed. In one scene, a politi­cian tells her col­league “I ad­mire men with balls” be­fore im­me­di­ately adding, “in other words, prin­ci­ples”. Else­where, a cagey news­pa­per ed­i­tor tells Lu­cas “politi­cians and jour­nal­ists make strange bed­fel­lows. It’s re­ally a busi­ness re­la­tion­ship. We just want to sell papers and you just want to buy votes.” The 30-sec­ond short films shown be­tween songs dur­ing Euro­vi­sion do a bet­ter job at po­lit­i­cal com­men­tary.

As for the gang­land sub­plot, we’re treated to a lit­eral rogue’s gallery of crim­i­nal clichés: ex­pense-fid­dling bu­reau­crats, Mid­dle Eastern archetypes from cen­tral cast­ing; and that breed of chic, be-suited Euro-gang­ster of­ten seen in Bond movies – the type that sneer from a dis­tance and mut­ter into their cuff­links while Bond in­tro­duces him­self to a femme fa­tale named Thrusty Le­g­longs or Sex­ica Joy­hinge.

Stagey and flat

The show’s ac­tion scenes are largely stagey and flat, with stilted knife fights and slow­mo­tion ex­plo­sions straight out of an All Saints video. There’s one po­lit­i­cal as­sas­si­na­tion that’s as in­ert and life­less as those anti-piracy warn­ings, with bal­a­clava-clad men break­ing down gran­nies for scrap, im­ply­ing you’d be the same if you tor­rent Cheaper By The Dozen 2. Mar­seille is a hot mess, but Depar­dieu re­mains watch­able through­out. His hang­dog charm brings a depth to the show that nei­ther its plot­ting nor script de­serve, even if a com­bi­na­tion of age, poor light­ing and bad make-up leave him look­ing like a crum­pled York­shire pud­ding that’s been put into a suit. He spends most of his scenes in a flop sweat, and it’s of­ten un­clear if said per­spi­ra­tion is his or the char­ac­ter’s.

Lightly damp and pon­der­ous, he plods from scene to scene with the queasy se­ri­ous­ness of a man who’s found a suit­case full of shell­fish in a bus sta­tion and in­tends to keep work­ing his way through it, no mat­ter what his doc­tor says.

To bor­row some metaphors be­fit­ting the show, watch­ing

Mar­seille is like hav­ing an ex­trav­a­gant and labyrinthine af­fair, or wear­ing onions as jew­ellery, or smok­ing in­side all the time – an un­wise pur­suit not with­out its plea­sur­able di­ver­sions but, in the end, most likely more trou­ble than it’s worth.

At best, it has the dra­matic so­lid­ity of a scan­dalously un­der­cooked souf­flé; at worst, it’s ba­si­cally a sexed-up par­ody of ‘House of Cards’

Hang­dog charm: Gerard Depar­dieu

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