The Returned: 101 “Camille” Review
By Adam James Cuthbert
The latest import to Channel 4, the French supernatural crime-drama The Returned, begins promisingly enough. For the uninitiated, The Returned revolves around the premise of seemingly miraculous and fantastic resurrection, within a small Alpine community. The deceased walk the earth once more, exactly as they were prior to their demise, with no recollection of the event, believing they can simply resume their lives without turmoil. Per the drama’s ensemble cast, the focus is diffused throughout, albeit primarily concerned with the Seguret family, the opener serving to outline the main characters and their basic personalities, whilst seeding mysteries (other than the phenomenon of resurrection) to lure the audience in.
A rift has occurred within the Seguret family, following the tragic death of their daughter, the eponymous Camille, during a fateful accident. Camille and her classmates had set upon a school trip – when the bus fell off the mountainside.
The father, Jerome, is sarcastic, cynical, and disenchanted. He regularly seeks sexual gratification (although it’s implied he suffers from impotence) with the local barmaid, Lucy, a younger woman – an affair of which Camille’s twin sister, Lena, expresses no comment. Jerome is hostile of his wife Claire’s close relationship with Pierre, a man of Christian faith, who spearheads group meetings in the local community centre, for those affected by the bus accident, which Jerome attends, on account they “do [him] the world of good”. Jerome is the pariah within the group. When everyone else supported the erection of a monument, a memorial to the dead children, Jerome disagreed; at first, believing such a monument was pointless, and secondly (when an image of the proposed monument is shown to the group) that it’s a distasteful, unattractive design. His isolation within the group foreshadows his alienation from his loved ones, creating a sympathetic character: a man who can only sadly look on, feeling powerless. Indeed, in a stylistic tableaux-esque shot towards the end, Jerome is framed with his back to the camera, gazing out onto the landscape, whilst his wife and children are situated on the sofa together.
Claire has been influenced by Pierre, praying for their daughter’s return – an act which Jerome scorns, feeling distressed, but also disappointed in Claire. Pierre instructs the couple to stay together for the sake of their daughter. This emphasises a nobler side, the narrative earlier establishing that Pierre aided a couple in recuperating from the loss of their first child to eventually conceive another, the wife’s optimism (“Life always prevails”) in stark contrast to Jerome’s negative, bitter outlook. Pierre’s faith is expanded upon when he alludes to the parable of Lazarus, when discussing Camille’s condition (resurrection having occurred once before to mankind, according to his belief) – a condition he finds, perhaps with a disturbing subtext, “wonderful”.
Lena, meanwhile, is in a potentially intriguing predicament. On the day of her sister’s death, Lena had faked illness, thus excusing herself from the school trip, to clandestinely engage in teenage coitus with her sister’s crush. I won’t be surprised if Lena experiences feelings of guilt and regret: if she hadn’t deceived, she would have died with her sister.
As for the other characters: a young nurse, Julie, who lives alone, finds herself developing a quasi-maternal concern for an enigmatic young boy, who refuses to speak, except to identify himself as “Victor” – after Julie’s impromptu name for him when a busybody neighbour enquires (or intrudes) into Julie’s private life. What is perhaps most peculiar about Victor is that he was standing in the road, when the school bus was approaching, closing his eyes as the bus swerved off the road to its destruction. Whether or not Victor is also one of the resurrected (he doesn’t age between the flashback to the accident and the present) or, if not, what his true intentions/purpose is, remains unknown. Speaking of intriguing plot developments, Lucy is abruptly, brutally, murdered by an unidentified killer (within the narrative) – danger and darkness are certainly afoot.
Finally, it is worth noting that the opener is beautifully and, at times, strikingly shot (use of voyeuristic P.O.V. peep-hole shots), the direction cranking up tension through long takes, as characters are piqued, yet dumbfounded, by the presence of the dead within their homes. One criticism is that characters do feel only sketchily written. Obviously, this’ll be remedied with time, but one can’t help but feel that the opener aims to capture a variety of responses to the phenomenon, and planting curiosities, at the expense of strengthening our understanding of the main characters’ psychologies, thereby developing a firm interest in, and bond with, the characters from the start. Only Jerome feels like a tangible persona. Nonetheless, it’s a well-written, reasonably paced opener.