After a four week interlude in Wales, BBC4’s Saturday night slot reverts to European Crime Drama with an offering entitled Disparue or, for those of us reliant on the sub-titles: The Disappearance.
This is my first time with a French one, though Spiral has long since been a BBC4 favourite, but it was already established once my interest was first piqued by The Killing (the same with Inspector Montalbano), so I’ve never tried to catch up.
At first sight, there’s little to distinguish The Disappearance from its fellows. It’s very well made, and well acted, and it’s kept a low key over the first two episodes. It’s set in Lyons, about which I know nothing except that the makers of the programme are prone to aerial shots to give you a panorama and, especially when they follow the river, it looks a beautiful place.
I don’t want to use the word ‘cliche’ but there’s not a lot so far that we haven’t seen many times before. The Disappearance is about the disappearance of Lea Morel, a pretty, long blonde-haired girl on the eve of her seventeenth birthday. She goes out to a park concert with her elder brother (who’s supposed to get her back for 3.00am) and her cousin/best friend Chris, and doesn’t come back. So far, so The Killing 1.
There’s no sign of overt trouble at home, just a bit of teenage bolshieness/selfishness. Lea’s gone and gotten herself a small, discreet tattoo: Mother Flo, a civil servant, is disappointed, but only because they were supposed to be going together and getting one each. Father, Julien, works in a restaurant with his brother Jules (Chris’s father).
There’s obviously more to it than that. Over the first two episodes, we learn that Lea is a bit of a Laura Palmer: she takes cocaine, she’s had a boyfriend she’s concealed from her family for six months (Romain’s entirely respectable so why’s she been so secretive?), it turns out she’s forged parental consent for Formula FR racing training (at which she’s naturally gifted), and there’s a suggestion thatshe may have been involved to some extent in prostitution (she has to have gotten the money for the coke and the racing lessons somehow).
There’s a bit of a tangle in the backgrounds. Julian had an affair with a waitress last year, which he broke off when Flo found out about it, and spends a lot of episode 2 under arrest when she unexpectedly became part of his alibi and tried to get revenge by screwing him over. And Romain’s slept with Chris once or twice when he was mad at Lea, but he regrets it now, though Chris seems to think it means more, and it was discovering Chris’s earring in Romain’s car at 3.00am whilst fucking that sent Lea stomping off into the night from which she has yet to return…
Then there’s the cops. Leading the investigation is Commander Bertrand Molina, recently reposted to Lyons after ‘trouble’ in Paris. He’s hoping to see more of his daughter though she doesn’t exactly seem keen, not even when Maman decides it’s time Papa has to put up with the insufferable brat and dumps her on Molina mid-case.
And his second-in-command is Lieutenant Camille Guerin, recently split up with boyfriend, fending off Maman’s enquiries and forever eating (she’s a bit overweight but not worryingly so).
In short, cops with problems. We seem to have ticked all the boxes so far.
So The Disappearance is thus far another compilation of cliches, but I don’t want to accuse it of that. It’s not pretending that any of this is earth-shatteringly original, or high drama. It’s none of it risible, like Salamander or Follow the Money, and it’s entertaining enough for me to allow it time to develop.
It also has the benefit of a fine performance by Alix Poisson in the role of Flo: finely-drawn face, and a nicely pert bottom in jeans, she’s a worthy successor to Pernilla Birk Larsson as a distraught mother and by far the best thing about the show so far. Though I’m reserving judgement on the scene where she apologises to Julien for doubting him when he was arrested by the Police
Structurally, the episodes to date show a pattern of slow accumulation of detail leading to a low-key cliffhanger. Episode 1 ended with Julien’s arrest because he had lied in his statement in a manner that we didn’t know. Episode 2 ended in a rather more serious manner, with a voicemail at 3.14am on Julian’s mobile that he didn’t wake up for in time: from Lea…
The Disappearance was a big hit in France. It’s adapted from a Spanish series broadcast in 2007/8 so, along with the English sub-titles, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, internationally. There’s only eight parts of it and it’s been compared to Broadchurch, which, for my sins, I confess I’ve never watched, but if so, here’s hoping it’s a comparison to series 1.