KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Television

The Returned: the beautiful dead

by Stephanie Van Schilt , February 13, 2014Leave a comment

The Returned

 

Time and again The Returned (Les Revenants) has been named on ‘Top TV Shows of 2013’ lists around the world. You will have been told to watch it. There are good reasons why everyone is so insistent.

Don’t be scared off by the ‘zombie’ marketing tags: this French fare sprints in the opposite direction from The Walking Dead in mood, subject, artistry and performance. That said, you will see dead people.

Edgar Allan Poe’s famous assertion – ‘the death of a beautiful woman is unquestionably, the most poetical topic in the world’ – has always been a popular narrative premise. Currently, this macabre motivation is thriving on TV: the original Danish and US remake of The Killing, HBO’s deliberately hyper-masculine new series True Detective, the delectably lush Hannibal, even teen dramas Pretty Little Liars and Veronica Mars take their core mysteries or story arcs from the death of a female figure.

Of the many that experiment with Poe’s principle about the pretty, the disappeared, the dead, no single show is more poetical than The Returned. ‘Camille’ – the first of eight episodes in season one – commences with the titular teen’s gruesome death when she and her peers plummet off a cliff in a school bus accident. Indeed televisual poetry that launches from this specific death of a beautiful young woman, The Returned is an aesthetically pleasing, philosophically challenging and emotionally potent show.

The Returned goes beyond the death of Camille – a fatal event that occurred four years ago – flashing forward to today where a host of other dead people (including Camille) are, yep, you guessed it, returning to the living they left behind. Character upon character strolls into the picture and, whether dead or alive, with each storyline introduced, a liveliness and confusion is palpable. From this first episode, the multifaceted dynamics between the cast and curious circumstances that structure this show are portrayed with a clarity that cuts through the visible mist shrouding the small valley town.

The opening credits and soundtrack (scored and performed by Mogwai) underscore the show’s enigmatic mood – of imagined ghosts in the attic, of strange tapping sounds on windows that recall urban myths and the beating of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart. From The Shining/Damien-style creepy kid to a slasher-subplot and flickering lights around the returned beings, there are definite supernatural and horror tropes at play (as well as those affiliated with drama, romance, procedurals and thrillers). Yet the fear factor in The Returned doesn’t solely come from the walking, talking and (mostly) attractive corpses re-entering the community (there are some serious hotties here!).

The words eerie and haunting don’t even begin to describe it because the main fear at play in The Returned is how it confronts our current fascination with nostalgia head on. The Returned is not an earnest, romantic or revisionist portrayal of a collective moment in history like Mad Men; it’s not a defused, camp comedic throwback seen in, say, That 70s Show. The Returned dabbles in the aesthetics of nostalgia in the most psychological, existential and literal sense of the word, etymologically a compound from the Greek nóstos meaning ‘homecoming’ and Homeric álgos meaning ‘pain or ache’. (Literally translated, Les Revenants is ‘the ones who came back’.)

The return of these once-dead (still dead? Undead?) characters triggers a frisson between life and death, an uncanny temporal shift that is at once supernatural and existential. The mystery at the crux of The Returned forces all characters (as well as the very much alive audience) to ponder humanity’s uncertain and inevitable fate and directly confront the result of previous (or future) loss and longing. These characters are awash in the true repercussions of nostalgia as their present collides with the past and we’re all uncertain about their futures.

The Returned screens on SBS2 this week – it’s gripping television that will stay with you, so be sure to check it out. And if you have already, I advise reliving it while waiting for season two to return.

Stephanie Van Schilt is Deputy Editor at The Lifted Brow and a freelance writer. She tweets @steph_adele.

ACO logo




9781926428239

Abigail Ulman

Cold Feet and Hot Little Hands: Abigail Ulman on writing – and not writing – her first book

Post-book deal, every time I sat down to try to write something, I felt paralysed by some kind of literary stage fright. I had shown my work to other people before – for writing workshops, and submissions to literary journals and competitions – but I had never before written a story while thinking This story is going to be published in a book. Or, more accurately, This story idea is nowhere near good enough to be published in a book. Read more »

9781926428239

Sian Campbell

Girlhood and The Woman-Child in Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands

Each of the stories in Hot Little Hands navigates girlhood in some way, from the lives of high school-age teenagers to those of young twentysomething women. ‘Girl things’ such as horse camp, gymnastics, feminised bodies, clothing, periods, crushes, yoga and gossip weave through the fabric of the text. Though the subject matter is often adult – the girls of Hot Little Hands navigate abortion, sex trafficking, young motherhood, drugs, and deportation – the girls themselves are not… even when they technically are. Read more »

Dont-Try-This-at-Home-_-cover_-FINAL1-300x460

James Tierney

Subscriber Stories: Angela Readman’s Don’t Try This At Home

As a subscriber to publisher And Other Stories’ distribution model, I am in the unusual position of reviewing a book – Angela Readman’s short story collection Don’t Try This At Home – that thanks me by name for making its existence possible. Read more »

amy-schumer

Rebecca Shaw

Amy Schumer and the equal right to be funny

I don’t think men should be banned from making jokes about contentious subjects. I am of the belief that anything can and should be laughed about, and if done right, it can be beneficial. But more often, women are doing it right, and women are doing it better. Read more »

womens-home-companion

Kate Iselin

Trivial Pursuits: The media and ‘women’s interests’

Women, especially in public life, exist as a part of men’s worlds – a big part, sure – but still a part. Even as women become more vocal in demanding accurate and respectful representation, we are kept at arms length by a mainstream media which struggles to catch up. Read more »

SGbTsPQ

Rebecca Shaw

Command and Control: Trophy daughters and overprotective dads

There is no doubt that an overprotective parent is better than a parent who couldn’t care less what their child gets up to. And there is no doubt that most overprotective mums and dads are well-meaning. But paternal ‘protectiveness’ shticks often boil down to fathers not wanting their daughters to have sex, and by extension, get pregnant. Read more »

Partisan

Joanna Di Mattia

To experience the world with blinkers on: Ariel Kleiman’s Partisan

Partisan beautifully evokes that complex space between childhood and adulthood, when we start to question the worldview we have inherited – when we begin to see the world through our own eyes. It is both a coming-of-age story, and an innocence-coming-undone story. Read more »

kstew

Joanna di Mattia

Kristen Stewart Through the Looking-Glass

Kristen Stewart is an actress who has been criticised, maligned even, for an acting style that transmits from set to screen as sullen, adolescent, wooden, blank, fidgety and inelegant. But perhaps she’s an actress concerned with authenticity, and the defining feature of her style is to show us herself by appearing like she’s not acting at all. Read more »

it-follows-4

Anwen Crawford

Behind You: The subtler horror of It Follows

I don’t watch many horror films. Lifelong victim of an overactive and slightly morbid imagination, I regularly envisage disasters, natural or otherwise, that might befall me, without requiring the added stimulus of cinema. Read more »

Struggle+Street+KEY+IMAGE

Anwen Crawford

Shame and Stigma on Struggle Street

Struggle Street framed poverty as a combination of genetic inheritance and natural disaster – a barrier to be overcome only through ceaseless positive effort. Those who sabotage themselves through bad choices are therefore fair targets for our scorn, while those who gain employment or remain sober deserve praise for overcoming the odds. The deserving and undeserving poor, in other words. What an old story. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

svfw crop

Katie Williams

Silicon Valley Fashion Week?: Fashion, technology, and wearability

Last week saw the inaugural Silicon Valley Fashion Week? (yes, with a question mark) unfold in San Francisco. The show promised ‘drones, robots, and mad inventions’, and tickets sold out swiftly; attendees were clearly eager to see more inventive clothing in this heartland of nerds. Read more »

AnimalCrossing copy

Katie Williams

Digging For Meaning in Utopia: Storytelling in Animal Crossing

Animal Crossing is a series of games in which – as my partner once remarked incredulously – ‘nothing ever happens.’ In its latest incarnation, Animal Crossing: New Leaf, you become the unwitting mayor of a town populated by anthropomorphic, bipedal animals. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

16741557134_5206bec0cd_k

Jane Howard

Dark Side of the Rainbow: Belvoir St Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz

This production of The Wizard of Oz is ‘after L Frank Baum’: after his book, after the 1939 film, and after our collective memories of both. Fragmented, non-narrative, and largely wordless, it relies on our existing knowledge of the text to build a work of images and emotion, and in doing so demands an extreme generosity from the audience. Read more »

Arts House_Image_10c_Oedipus Schmoedipus (post)_Credit – Ellis Parrinder copy

Jane Howard

A Case for Diversity in Theatre

Attracting different audiences to the theatre is about many things. It’s about accessibility for people without high disposable incomes, but it’s also about marketing and publicity; about creating venues which are physically accessible for people with disabilities; and about ensuring the performers on stage are as diverse as we want their audiences to be. Read more »

2909252617_1f456d0c81_b

Jane Howard

A Working-Class Mythology: Ironing boards at the theatre

In theatre, there is perhaps no prop piece more mythologised than the ironing board, which came to signify the birth of contemporary British theatre. Read more »