In the past few years, series whose main theme is politics have become more popular, we can mention House of Cards, Game of Thrones, Borgen or The West Wing. The first French series produced by Netflix deals with this topic, it is called Marseille and his leading actor is Gerard Depardieu (in one of the best performances he has done in such a long time). This past few weeks I’ve been watching its first season (they are preparing a second one, I’ve heard). Prepare yourselves because today we are going to talk about politics and fiction, in this case about Marseille. For those who haven’t seen the series and want to: we warn you that there might be some minor SPOILERS.
The importance of using fiction as a resource
I think that fiction (either cinema, novels, theatre or TV series) is a fundamental resource to understand reality and to explain it. Fiction talks about the concerns of a specific moment in time and it also serves to explain to the general public, in a simple way, how certain things work, or at least how the author thinks they work. Many times, fiction serves as a resource to spread contents from different fields or sciences. Therefore, I think that it is interesting that we discuss in this blog series, films, novels, plays and every kind of fiction related to History.
And what has this to do with History!?
Marseille isn’t a period series, why should we care about it in this blog then? Because it is a series that revolves around politics and in this site we are going to talk a lot about History as viewed from a power perspective. I personally think that Marseille’s proposal looks quite interesting because it doesn’t talk about politics as seen from the highest echelons (like the case of Borgen, The West Wing, Game of Thrones) but rather seen from a very curious area, the local one (the power struggles to gain control over Marseille’s council). Therefore, it can be a very useful resource to explain politics in that standard, not only in the present but also in the past. Politics, after all, has a very similar working in different periods, although its cultural perception and its institutions change.
The series is about the race to obtain the city hall of Robert Taro (Gerard Depardou) against his treacherous successor Lucas Barrè. The central element of the series is the plan that Robert Taro had foreseen before announcing his withdrawal from politics after twenty years as mayor of Marseille: building a Casino in the historic centre of the city. The treason of Lucas Barrè (Benoît Magimel) will put in danger Robert Taro’s plans and he will be forced into changing his intentions of withdrawing from the political scene. And, just like that a power confrontation where anything is allowed begins.
In spite of the negative reviews that the series obtained, it has achieved to be renewed for another season, even so I think there are some positive aspects. Firstly, Gerard Depardieu does a brilliant performance; it has been such a long time since he was so committed with a role. Being said that, I think that the series gives some important keys about certain things. It is very interesting how the press is used in campaign and how the corruption cases, perfectly known internally, are uncovered when the unity of the party breaks and with it the pact of silence. It is also worthy of mention the relationship between the fringe of the party (UPM, the fictional party based on the French right party UMP) and the central organs, although they don’t dig deeper into it. An original element that I must highlight is the personal weight of the main character, Robert Taro, in the local level where he rules, although little is said about this matter. The basic ideas are good, but very few of them are developed accordingly, what makes the negative aspects prevail over the positive ones.
The series deals with an idea already seen in House of Cards, politics as an space of power struggles among vicious beings with private interests that turns democracy into a mere fiction that they use to their own objectives. It is a negative idolisation of politics that brings light to some real aspects while other positive ones are forgotten. In Marseille’s case, I think, it is poorly handled compared to House of Cards.
The plot is disappointing, predictable and looks like something out of a soap opera. Depardieu does a good job and so does the actress that plays the role of Robert Taro’s daughter (Stéphane Caillard), but the rest of the cast seems to me a bit weak. The series aims to be a French version of House of Cards, a portrait of the ruthless side of politics, but it couldn’t compete with its referent. It doesn’t know how to tap into its great advantage and its good aim, putting local politics in the spotlight (the council). It talks about the political struggle between Taro and Barrè, but it doesn’t mention what that power is based on or the relation it has with the local society. It is difficult to understand why Robert Taro has ruled Marseille for 20 years. They don’t explore all the possibilities that this political approach offered and the other approaches (personal relationships, romances, the thriller with the mafia in the slums of Marseille, etc.) doesn’t seem to work either.
It looked like the story could have offered much more. In the end it is just a simplified idea of politics, at times delusional even: the main character sacrifices everything for his city and his big heroic act is to build a casino in the historic part of the city (WTF!).
Let’s hope that the good ideas that this series had (specially that approach of the political struggles as seen from the local politics’ point of view) will be better handled in the future. It could have offered more.
And, what do you think? Did you like Marseille? Do you think that it is a good series to understand politics? Do you think that local politics is important to understand power? Participate and leave your opinion. Greetings!
Translated from the original article written by Pedro Antonio Sánchez Prieto: https://historiya.es/marseille-daba-mucho-mas