A French Village is a French television drama set in the made-up town of Villeneuve in Eastern France that is occupied by the Germans during World War II. It ran for six seasons in France (with a seventh and final one set to air later this year) but has never had much presence in the U.S. Season Two has just been released by MHZ (Season One came out last year). It deals with a multitude of characters and for the most part humanizes them and allows us to understand where they are coming from.
There are resistance fighters consisting of mostly Russian-style communists who get their orders from Moscow. They often run afoul with the local members who are more concerned about sabotaging the Germans than any ideology. Then there is the mayor who is caught between helping his fellow villagers and obeying German commands. You’ve also got the industrialist who works with the Germans, providing them lumber and concrete while still trying to retain his French identity. There is a school filled with children who come with their own difficulties and the school teachers who suffer right alongside them. There are many more major and minor characters that its difficult to keep track.
Tensions and drama come not only from the enemy from beyond the borders, but from how the characters relate to one another. There is brewing love, ruined marriages, unwanted pregnancies, and much, much more. A French Village is deftly able to handle all of these myriad plot threads and character lines without ever making the viewer feel overwhelmed. It takes a bit of concentration to keep everything straight, but well worth the effort.
I must admit it took me a bit to warm to both Audrey Fleurot, who plays the mayor’s wife and Thierry Godard, who plays the industrialist because I’d just seen them in Spiral (you can read my review of season 5 here). They play such different characters in this show than that one it was hard to readjust. It's a testament to their acting abilities that they are able to play radically different roles in what is no doubt very intense shooting schedules (both series are still currently running) and be fully enveloped by them.
The acting all around is quite good, as is the writing. It's always difficult to judge writing on a foreign language show, but the translations are good and the characters and scenarios well told.
If there is a complaint, it's that the Germans aren’t very well fleshed out. The only one developed beyond a shadow is that of SS Commander Heinrich Müller (Richard Samuel) who borders so closely to a mustache-twirling caricature that it's a bit distracting. It's not fair to want more characters in a show so cram full of them, but it would be nice to get a better sense of the enemy beyond just a menace in the background.
But that’s a small complaint in a series full of some really wonderful stories. There is a real sense of impending doom as these characters all deal, in their own way, with the horrible war and a foreign occupation that pulls them apart.