The crime genre is swimming in broken, tragic cops. Often partnered with the bumbling and dangerous, these poor saps have all the shortcomings of Mr Holmes and none of the positives. They’re not incapable – only decidedly prone to lapses in judgement. Perhaps they have an itch for the drink, or a lingering psychological issue, or drugs, or relationship issues. It’s becoming commonplace and somewhat tedious – but it can still done well. In walks La Treve (or The Break in English) with a swing in its step. It has every right to walk in suavely. It’s pulled it off. Another tragic cop falling into the depths of yet another local murder, but I was hooked.
La Treve hit Netflix quietly in December of last year. Set in Belgium, the series opens with troubled detective Yoann Peeters (Yoann Blanc) moving into the rural, forested village of Heiderfeld. Having once called the village home, Peeters is instantly familiar with the landscape and its people – its aimless youth, belligerent farmers, and overly active members of the local council. Life is slower here than his years spent in Brussels, and we watch as he and his teenage daughter struggle to adapt to a small-town mentality where everybody knows everybody else. On his first day they fish a dead body from the river: Driss Assani (Jérémy Zagba), a 19 year old local football player.
Suicide? Or murder? Peeters’ chief thinks the former, whilst Peeters himself opts for the latter. The framing shifts throughout – a clearly angst-ridden Peeters sits opposite a young psychologist and discusses the case, his mental state, and then we’re taking back into the then. Later in the series we are privy to Peeters’ dreams; misty and haunting re-interpretations of the case in which he meets with Assani and tries to connect with him. The writers were clearly aware that, unlike other shows in the crime genre, mysteries cannot be solved through dreams. Instead, in La Treve the audience is witness to the obscurity of Peeters’, sequences which are highly symbolic, not always productive, but perfectly presented.
After a tense beginning the series hits full throttle in mid-season. The village is caught in a battle for and against building a dam downriver. Peeters encounters a lost love from his teenage years. Camille Peeters (Yoann’s daughter, played by Sophie Breyer) tries to find her place is this new, tiny setting. There are woodland dwelling outcasts, raves in country houses, secret sex lives, hidden weapons… Heiderfeld’s pleasantry is torn apart by the underground going-ons of those who live there, and Peeters struggles to hold it all together.
It runs at a fair pace. Always exciting, never not entertaining. There’s a particular episode somewhere in the middle in which the lives of many crashes to the floor. It’s an hour of near-constant negativity, and it’s laughable in hindsight. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong, so the episode sticks out like a bloody thumb when you consider the series as a whole. Everything else is a finely tuned machine. Special credit goes to the myriad of actors employed in the making of the series; people of all body-shapes and age ranges. It adds a lot to the series; seeing the furrowed leathery faces of the local farmers was truly joyous – it grounds the whole series, helping to suspend any disbelief in the audience. Heiderfeld feels real in consequence.
Without spoiling the conclusion I’ll say that it’s narrative close is wonderful. It closes the loop. The strings are all tied together. It’s beautifully shot, but I did feel it coming. Perhaps there was a little too much telling in there somewhere.
If you’re a fan of the crime genre it’s definitely for you.