The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series.
With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is tracking to become a French modern classic, its admirers say..
“This series is the best ever made in France,” trumpeted French newspaper Le Figaro.
A Canal Plus Création Originale produced by The Oligarchs Productions (TOP) and Federation Entertainment Ent., which handles international sales, the series was created by screenwriter-director Eric Rochant whose “The Patriots,” with Yvan Attal as a Mossad operative, was selected for main competition at the 1994 Cannes Festival.
First released on Canal Plus in April 2015, Season 4 concluded last November. MyFrenchFilmFestival is screening Episodes 1 and 2 of Season 1 in its New Horizons showcase, out of competition. But MyFFF ends on Feb. 18. Five takes on what makes “The Bureau” – for its large fanbase – so special:
1.FRENCH CREATIVITY, U.S. INDUSTRIAL MODELS
“The Bureau,” its makers explain, yokes French artistry – in its psychological observance and realistic accuracy of portrayal of modern espionage – with U.S. TV production structures novel for France when first introduce, such as oversight of a writers’ room and artistic direction by a show runner – a rare figure in French TV – in Eric Rochant.
“We believe in the best of both worlds: an American development process and excellent French creativity. Eric Rochant’s realistic style applied to a world of fiction,” Alex Berger, Oligarchs Prods. president told Variety. French media exalted the TV show as a “French ‘Homeland’” or “the French ‘Mad Men,’ DGSE-style,” (“Le Nouvel Observateur,”) in a reference to the General Directorate for External Security, France’s equivalent of the CIA.
Its productivity also sets it apart. Bowing premium series with “Spiral” in December 2005, French pay TV giant Canal Plus recognized that its often cinema-sourced creative talent struggled to turn out series fast enough. In contrast, “The Bureau” is “produced the American way, 10 episodes produced and ready for broadcast every year,” observed Monica Levy, Federation Entertainment head of international.
2.BUCKING SPY THRILLER TROPES
There’s little gadgetry, big VFX, or even car chases in “The Bureau.” Direction is classical, elegant, not standard nervy hand-held neb-doc camera style. Narrative arcs are woven over multiple episodes, and increasingly intricate. But the lack of action makes its occasional introduction all the more affecting, such as when the particularly non-athletic agent Jonas (Victor Artus Solaro) must hold his ground on a battlefront in Season 4.
3. THE PERFORMANCES
A famed young director (“La Haine”) and actor (“Amelie”), Mathieu Kassovitz plays the brilliant intelligence officer Guillaume Debailly, a.k.a. “Malotru,” of GDSE, as an man of ordinary unruffled demeanor who faces a tragic destiny.
“Kassovitz’s somber register is perfect, mixing strength of character and weakness when it comes to sentiments,” said Le Monde.
That creates large audience empathy. “A show about intelligence services also enables us to talk about the world, about us. Intelligence operatives aren’t all about looking after the world. They are, basically, us. And we are them,” showrunner Rochant maintains.
Performances in general – Jean-Pierre Darroussin, Sara Giraudeau Florence Loiret Caille – are circumspect, secretive, sparking the need for viewers to know what the characters really think and feel, which is revealed over time. It’s this concept of character portrayal which is the series’ undisputed achievement.
4.A SALES MILESTONE
“The Bureau” has become an international crowd-pleaser, selling to 95 territories. Among the buyers: Sundance Channel (U.S., Canada, U.K.), SBS (Australia), Rialto (New Zealand), RTBF, VRT (Belgium), NRK (Norway), DR (Denmark), Sky (Italy), Amazon Prime (UK), RTL Crime (Germany), SVT (Sweden), Movistar+ (Spain), RTP (Portugal), NC (Poland) Viacom (Eastern Europe), and MTV (Hungary).
“With an ultra-realistic approach, ‘The Bureau’ has revolutionized the espionage genre, creating a series that is so believable and so gripping, it’s mind-blowing,” Federation’s Levy enthused.
Casting comprehensive insight into geopolitical hot-spot turmoil — whether in Algiers, Lebanon, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Mosul, Raqqa, Damascus or Russia— “The Bureau” has mapped out a contemporary world under surveillance and engulfed in cyber war.
“Our narration is not based on specific incidents,” Rochant told Variety. “Instead, we heed the global undertow, the deep earth tremors, so to speak.”
He added: “The cyber world has moved forward on the international stage, like a new front opening up. But a lot of people are still in the dark about it, so we thought it was important to address it in the show.”
At the launch of Season 4 last September, Canal Plus confirmed that writing was underway on Season 5.
John Hopewell contributed to this article.