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Belgium Noir Hit ‘The Break’ Rolls Out First Sales

Fruit of Europe’s TV spring, RTBF-aired crime series was written with large freedom, backed by novel Belgian state support for TV production

PARIS – “The Break” (La Treve) – a banner title in so-called new Belgian Noir that is clinching TV mart prizes, festival selection, and stonking domestic TV ratings – has initiated international sales closing deals with France, Flemish-speaking Belgium and Switzerland.

Buyers were France 2, a major channel at state-run France Televisions, Flemish pubcaster VRT, and Swiss French-language channel RTS.

Negotiated by Ella Productions, deals are natural early sales for a French-speaking TV drama which, screening at Paris’ Series Mani this week, lifts the lid on crime and corruption in a backward backwoods village in Belgium’s Ardennes.

Other territories are, however, under negotiation on a title which caught attention when Pascal Breton’s Federation Entertainment, producer of Netflix’s first French original series “Marseille,” clinched a deal on the eve of MipTV to acquire world sales rights outside France, Belgium and Switzerland to the dark procedural.

Created by writing team Stephane Bergmans, Benjamin D’Aoust and Mathieu Donck, then directed by Donk, “The Break” plays off two trends now invigorating TV production outside the U.S: the still-select creation of state funds to fire up higher-quality TV production; the disembarking of national film sectors into TV production.

The latter’s evident from “The Break’s” get-go. Set in lush Ardennes hills – a mix of thickly pined ridges sluiced by small rivers, “The Break” kicks in with a flash-forward of 40-year-old Inspector Yoann Peters, now in custody, recounting to a forensic psychologist a nightmare where he beats a delivery man until the man’s head bursts against a door.

Cut back to a bloodied Peters staggering along a country road pistol in hand, then three weeks earlier, settling in to his mother’s house in Heiderfeld, the village he grew up. The corpse of Driss Assani, a 19-year-old balck defender in the local soccer team, is dragged out of the local river. The police chief writes the case as suicide; Peters soon proves it was murder.

Lensed by cinematographer Olivier Boonjing, “The Break,” especially in its first seg, captures the lush Ardennes with an almost neo-Impressionist palette. Camera-movements are muscular – spectacular aerial shots and unsettling constant movement – the soundtrack premonitory, insinuating not only the hidden violence and web of complicity Peters may discover in the village as he investigates Assani’s murder but also the ineradicable violence he may discover in himself.

Produced by Helicotronc, in co-production with RTBF and Proximus, “The Break” aired on RTBF’s La Une where it hit strong 22.5% shares.

“We come from the cinema industry. We created this series as a (very long) feature film in its look and in it’s genre,” Donck told Variety in a soon-to-be published Q & A.

“The Break” received €1.18 million ($1.5 million) from a new Wallonie Brussels Federation-RTBF Fund for Belgian Series. It also exemplifies a TV phenomenon building across Europe: Creators, often inspired by U.S cable TV, fashioning TV shows for free-to-air primetime with some of the edge and darkness of human vision once the near monopoly of pay TV. As “The Break’s” audiences indicate, rather than limiting viewership, this can be a ratings winner.

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