The Returned Review
The FilmBeing old enough to remember it, I am one of those people who can recall what Channel Four in the UK used to be like in its early years. You see, once it was a place where brilliant mistakes could be made like The Word, Network 7 and the red triangle warning, where glorious cinematic gems like My Beautiful Laundrette, The Draughtsman's Contract, The Dead and Distant Voices, Still Lives were fostered and where a word puzzle for pensioners and students dominated the schedule. These days cheap nonsense and formula shows dominate, the likes of Undercover Millionaire, Princess Diana's Dresses and The Man with the Ten Stone Testicles (nope, that is a real programme). So it was a surprise when the modern Channel 4 invested in a prime-time series in French and The Returned hit UK TV a couple of months ago. The series has been a triumph, supremely creepy and revealing more questions than answers every week as one by one the formerly dead return to life. The series borrows more than a little from the 2004 film on review here of the same title but wisely takes different decisions in its exposition and goes, more confidently, into the tenderness of the feelings of the bereaved and the recently dead. For fans of the series, I am happy to spoil the thought that the film was in some way superior.
Robin Campillo's debut begins at a local cemetery as a torrent of people, mostly elderly, stream out of the gates as we hear a local council meeting where the phenomenon is discussed and we are assured that 70 million people have returned across the world with some 13,000 in this place alone. Military organisation is applied to the problem as centres are set up to receive the returned, and a group of therapists are on hand to counsel families, lovers and friends to aid the re-integration. Those welcomed back to hearth and home have changed however, and a desire to escape, along with the inability to sleep, forces the living to police them.
The living dead in this work have colder body temperatures, slightly stunted repeating memories and absences where they seem apart from the real world. During the nights, they go back to work to have meetings or try to run from the family home. They are no longer what they were, merely a faded image that the living can't quite understand or feel fully reunited with. Unlike the TV series, there are no returned killers, or victims of murders and the one repeated story of a suicide returning to his bereaved is not as satisfyingly complex as in the small screen adaptation.
Les Revenants is bloodless and lacking in humanity. Any exploration of bereavement and loss lacks insight, and any sense of allegory is forsaken for a rare occasion in the cinema of the living dead. In fact, where the TV series keeps it personal, introspective and explores its rural surroundings, the film is much less powerful because of generic locations, a detached dramatic tone and esoteric aspirations. Starting with a striking idea and ending with a very dark one, the truth is that the original film is like a sandwich which is gorgeous bread and no filling. The two exoduses work well visually but they raise serious difficulties when you consider them practically - don't dead people decompose, aren't they embalmed - if so why do the returnees look so normal?
So, much as I have enjoyed the recent TV series, I can't similarly recommend this film. Between an intriguing beginning and a crunching conclusion. Les Revenants has great ideas but it took someone else to exploit them properly.
The DiscThe Returned is presented with few frills and no extras by Arrow on a region 2 coded single layer disc. The menu design loops the video of the opening shot with the basic options offered here, which is simple and easy to use. The feature is presented in original aspect ratio and the relatively bright visuals are reproduced well with minimal edge enhancement and a nice layer of grain supporting the film-like image. Detail is good, black levels are reliable and overall this is a good transfer.Similarly, the audio track comes in stereo and is clear of hiss and pops with good reproduction of music and voices. English subtitles are optional and well translated.
SummaryIntelligent and rather cold, this is a film of ideas rather than heart and lacking dramatic integrity or suspense. An interesting watch for fans of the later TV series, this will confirm how revisiting some original ideas yields much better results later.
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