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‘Public Enemy’ Creators On Their TV Debut, Rise of Belgian Scripted TV (EXCLUSIVE)

Series took first Cri de Couer prize at Cannes’ MipDrama Screenings

Public Enemy
Courtesy of Playtime Films

Belgium TV fiction production is living a promising time. One example: Featuring monastery-rural psycho thriller “Public Enemy,” which won MipTV’s first MipDrama Screenings April 3. More examples will be seen at Paris’ mid-April Series Mania, with “Beau Sejour” playing in International Competition and “The Break” (“La Treve”) among French-language series.

A 10-part skein, “Enemy” is produced by Entre Chien Et Loup and Playtime Films –both Brussels-based shingles based in Brussels– with the support of Belgian French-language pubcaster RTBF. Zodiak Rights has picked up international sales on “Enemy,” whose main roles are played by Stéphanie Blanchoud, Clément Manuel, Jean-Jacques Rausin, Philippe Jeusette and Angelo Bison. Variety talked to the co-production team of “Enemy,” just before its screening at Cannes.

Could you make a short pitch for “Public Enemy”?

MATTHIEU FRANCES, writer-director: “Public Enemy is about the most hated man in the country who’s been released on parole after 20 years in jail for murdering children: Mystical crimes staged in a neo-religious fashion. Now, he’s sheltered by a monk community in a monastery in a small village in the Belgian Ardennes. He’s under the protection of a young police officer specialized in missing children cases. So, basically, the main feature of the series is that it takes place mostly inside a monastery and we think that this makes it special. We like to see “Enemy” as a Western, actually, –wide shots, characters lost into the wilderness of the forest…

“Public Enemy,” along with other series such as “La Trêve” and “Beau Séjour,” form a trio of much-awaited dramas coming out of Belgium. Is there a scripted TV boom in Belgium? If so, why?

FRANCES: Yes. We feel that too. There is an awakening in the French-speaking Belgian TV industry. A new generation of writers and directors coming from cinema have emerged with new ideas, a lot of ambition and a more international perspective. What makes this generation special is that these new talents are more influenced by U.K. and U.S. TV skeins.

In addition, all of that wouldn’t have been possible without the initiative of new funds launched by both the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and pubcaster RTBF.

Do you detect any trends in Belgium or European TV series production?

ISABEL DE LA SERNA, producer at Playtime: Yes we do. As the Flemish TV and Scandinavian series did before us, we feel that there is a strong, specific way of telling stories within Europe. We feel that European broadcasters have a strong interest in local (but still universal) stories. In Belgium, “La Trêve”, for example, confirmed that there is an audience for those kind of series.

What specific elements should a series have to seduce an international audience?

FRANÇOIS TOUWAIDE, producer at Entre Chien et Loup: An universal topic treated locally. Strong characters you can feel sympathy for. A high-level quality series, a more cinematic approach to doing things. Basically, a story that could happen on your doorstep even if it’s happening at the other side of the world.

How do you think the industry will receive “Enemy”? What would be a “natural” target for the series?

DE LA SERNA: One natural target should be the detective stories fanbase. We have a strong murder mystery plot which is the spine of all series. We think that, here in Cannes, people (and mostly professionals) will be intrigued about what’s going on in Belgium with these new TV dramas.

How can Belgium TV fiction contents grow and export?

TOUWAIDE: With ambition, of course. But that’s not enough. Maybe with a more international cast and crew, maybe using English language… It would also be useful to make an exchange of talents both ways. We would be delighted to see our scriptwriters, directors, actors, crew, work outside the country and –at the same time– to bring talents from outside into our own Belgian productions.

Do you have new projects at Playtime, an Entre Chien et Loup? 

TOUWAIDE: At Playtime Films and Entre Chien et Loup, we’ve already signed for a second season of “Public Enemy.” Playtime Films has in the pipeline “Flies” – a thriller about how we manage to survive in quarantine, made by the creators of “Enemy.” Entre Chien et Loup is developing: “Les Négociateurs”, created by Ari Folman, a new TV drama about how we dealt with our fears Brussels November lockdown.