The French-Belgian TV film series Meurtres à… has come to Toulouse in the Occitan region for an investigation combining memories, personal lives, and vengeance, led by two detectives with very little in common.
What connects the murder victims found in the squares of Toulouse and the words of a Claude Nougaro song? That's the puzzle Commander Simon Keller has to solve. An experienced police officer, he is weakened by his illness, and his partner, young Cécile Gimet who's tackling her first real investigation.
Directed by: Sylvie Ayme (France, 2020)
Screenplay: Jean-Marie Chavent, Luc Chaumar
Cast: Lionnel Astier (Simon Keller), Camille Aguillar (Cécile Gimet), Astrid Whettnall (Isabelle Barutel), Yvan Le Bolloc'h (Frédéric Gomez), Marc Citti (Serge Blondin), Annelise Hesme (Nathalie Gimet)
MEURTRES À TOULOUSE, INTERVIEW WITH JEAN-BAPTISTE NEYRAC, THE EPISODE’S PRODUCER.
What is the concept of the TV film collection Meurtres à…? This series was launched in 2013 and is based on a simple, unchanging principle: two detectives find themselves working together, quite by chance. Things are never simple and it takes time for them to adjust, but their differences are smoothed out as each character’s qualities come to light and the unlikely duo becomes a natural team. These movies are filmed far from Paris and the surrounding region. The first episodes were shot in iconic, rural areas before moving to cities such as Lille, Strasbourg, the Frioul Islands off the coast of Marseille, and Toulouse. And of course, as with any crime drama, there are a number of red herrings that lend the investigations a special tension.
What are the investigations about? They are focused exclusively on murders linked to a past event which has remained a secret. A recent revelation pushes one of the collateral victims to take revenge. These murderers are almost forgivable in that their experience is so horrible that they have no choice but to take revenge for what happened 15 or 20 years ago… The theme of vengeance is central to the series, a cornerstone of sorts. You can actually see that the murderers are trying to get caught. For example, in Toulouse, the first body is found in the Basilica of Saint-Sernin, positioned with lights and music. There is a hidden message in the choice of the place where the bodies are left, which leads the detectives right to the culprit.
What is different about your episode? This is less of a classic crime drama and more of a police comedy. We played with the relationship between an old cop, Simon Keller, and a freshly graduated police officer, Cécile Gimet. There is no hint of ambiguity between the two characters, who adopt a father-daughter relationship, and they end up forming a strong bond. One of them imposes respect through his seniority, while the other brings energy and a breath of fresh air. The other major difference is that these detectives’ pasts play a role in their search. There is dual investigation: a police investigation to find a murderer and a family investigation retracing Cécile’s background. The result was a slightly lighter film which worked really well; this episode broke the series record for audience numbers.
What was your approach to filming in Toulouse? This city is known for being the headquarters of Airbus, the European rival to Boeing. However, it is also hard to access and rarely promoted on television as it is far from Montpellier, which is the nearest major filming hub. As soon as the screenwriters started working, I spent three days there to find a list of settings that I thought were iconic, and others that enabled us to root the episode in the local environment. For example, the Cale de Radoub is a dry dock where the boats that sail on the Canal du Midi are cleaned and repaired. This is a central location yet few people know about it – even the inhabitants! I also decided to set the detective's office at the top of a high building so we could film the rooftops which have led to the nickname “the Pink City.” The heart of Toulouse, nestled between the Garonne River and the Canal du Midi, is a pleasant, active place with an almost Hispanic atmosphere thanks to the crowds, the terraces, and the bustling energy. Meanwhile, the Place du Capitole is the nerve center of it all. This is why most of our scenes were filmed within the city itself.
What are the advantages of the TV film format compared with a TV series? The 90-minute TV film is historically well-established in France, a country with a rich cinematographic history. Several years ago, the arrival of series with 52-minute episodes called the future of this format into question, but it seems there is still a market for it. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and the characters do not grow over a full season. The challenge is therefore to provide enough information about their lives. We create an empathetic response in viewers by focusing on major aspects such as Simon losing his wife or the nascent, unstable love that is unsettling Cécile. We had to find the right angle for developing each character to give audiences enough information without losing them.