PARIS — From December 2015, Carma Films’ “Contact” has revamped the French cop show for TF1, melding the fast-paced beats of CBS procedural and a redolently French Aix-en-Provence setting and family drama. Fifteen months later, again produced by Carma and sold by About Premium Content, “The Forest” overhauls the the weighty tradition of the French whodunit for public-sector channel France 3, adding a YA sub-plot which may hook runaway millennials whose loss is a major preoccupation of any public broadcaster in Europe.
Agatha Christie is still a large French TV brand, inspiring a long running period series on France 2, “The Little Murders of Agatha Christie.” There is little sense of gentility, by contrast, to “The Forest,” It begins with the disappearance one night of 16-year-old Jennifer from her village in the Ardennes. New to the village, Captain Decker leads the investigation with Virginie Musso (played by Xavier Dolan regular Suzanne Clement), who knows the girl, indeed the whole village, very well. They are helped by a school teacher, Eve, who herself disappeared in the local forest with her mother 20 years earlier. Her mother was never found; Eve, who appears to have lived for years as a wild child in the forest, still can’t remember what happened to her.
A rural procedural come coming-of-age drama with supernatural overtones, “The Forest” lifts the lid on a community which has much to hide or forget and on
the darker side of human nature and the human condition; a reminder of which is served by the forest itself, home to a hovel where the catatonic son of a hermit lives in near medieval squalor and where a girl’s dead body is found.
Carma Films founder and head Christophe Carmona talked to Variety about his newest series which world premieres at Series Mania.
“Contact,” which you also produced, was an attempt to renew the French cop show. “The Forest” is a move to overhaul the huge popular tradition in French TV and TV in France of the whodunit, here for audiences of France 3. Would you agree?
Carmona: The similarity between the two shows is their classical base. The point of “Contact,” a TF1 cop show, was to inject something new into the genre, and develop it in such a way the audience could believe in the reality of a character with a supernatural gift. For “The Forest,” we wanted something more “adult” in the way we would deal with the story and characters.
Also, as in many modern series, you mix genres: The whodunit, a coming-of-age subplot, and an aura of horror, maybe the supernatural, to the forest itself.
Yes, and I’d add some drama aspects. Very early on, when we began to work with the writer, Delinda Jacobs, we decided that the whodunit narrative would be on the surface. Beneath, we would try to explore two themes: the main one, the relation between young girls and their parents, whether positive or negative figures, present or absent; the second, that drove to the family’s deepest core, that sometimes children know more about parents than the other way round. We wanted to mix this with the strangeness of the character of Eve and her past as a wild child, the years she spent in the forest give her a special bond with the forest.
From two episodes viewed, you sense this will be not only a murder mystery but a missing-persons drama: At least one daughter will remain missing for a long time. This year’s Series Mania has multiple and highly distinctive missing thrillers, what is their attraction?
We began working on the show with Delinda three-to-four years ago. At that time, there weren’t many missing shows. Dramas where people are looking for someone who’s disappeared open the door to imagination and fantasy, confronting a character with something for which they have no answer and revealing a lot about people in the way they deal with stress and anguish. In “The Forest’s” last four episodes, we discover that, if the young girls are missing, it’s because they’ve done something wrong. We explore what kinds of stupid things young girls of this age might do, and the consequences of having dysfunctional families.
Could you also talk about your company, Carma Films. which is a subsidiary of Jean-Luc Azoulay’s JLA Group?
I founded Karma four years ago because I was looking for a place where I was part of something larger than a small production company but kept my full independence and creative freedom.
Do you think that insistence on independence is now favored by market conditions where there are a lot of ambitious dramas being made, people are looking for something that is different, and independence can help you create that?
Yes absolutely. In the French market, there are less and less independent companies but TV production needs new different things. You have to always do something new. It’s quite complicated to be totally alone in the French market. That’s what’s great with Jean-Luc and the group. Other French groups are more vertically or horizontally integrated, which I don’t think is always favorable.