After the first season set in New Caledonia, the characters in the series O.P.J. find themselves on Reunion Island for new investigations in the French overseas territory. The new season promises chases through sugarcane plantations, hard-hitting arrests, and incredible landscapes.
O.P.J. INTERVIEW WITH BERTRAND COHEN, THE SERIES' CREATOR AND PRODUCER
What made you want to portray the lives and professions of detective-officers in the Criminal Investigation Department?
These detectives work on investigations which are therefore long-term missions. By spending two 52-minute episodes on each investigation, we can closely follow how they work and the interactions taking place within their personal lives. We slow down time to enable us to feature their family and personal lives and focus on their psychology and relationships. These police teams are comprised of normal people, mothers, expats, and others, who have to find a balance with their complicated private lives. But there is also action, shoot-outs, and arrests, as these detectives often have to rely on their weapons, use force, fight, and run as part of the job. I wanted to show all these sides of their daily lives.
The first season takes place in New Caledonia, a French archipelago off the coast of Australia. The second is set on Reunion Island. What drew you to these territories?
The detectives working in these regions have hit the jackpot! They are public servants who are lucky enough to live in magnificent places filled with fresh fruit, wide-open spaces, corals, and a different pace of life. Reunion, for example, wasn’t named by chance. There was no indigenous population on the island, and all the people who came to live here first arrived by the sea. That makes everyone equal! There is no segregation based on religion, skin color, or physical appearance, which creates an incredible mix of Malabar Indians, Chinese, Vietnamese, white, Black, and more! Our investigations enable us to explore unique places, as Reunion is a surprising island home to everything from the blue lagoons of the Indian Ocean to high mountains. Arrest operations can start in T-shirts against the backdrop of sugarcane plantations and finish in winter jackets in the fog! We have also filmed scenes on a racetrack surrounded by palm trees. The setting is visually astonishing.
These regions are generally absent from French media and television, aside from negative news stories and vacation commercials. How did you avoid painting a caricatural picture?
The objective was not to create a picture-postcard or seek out any exoticism. We are interested in people; their love stories, disappointments, ambitions. While the places we film are beautiful, we are above all looking to present real lives. There are crimes and difficult experiences, but no more than anywhere else! What I love about Reunion is the atmosphere, which differs from mainland France, and the more sincere human relationships. I try to show this difference, this other way of living. We may still be in France, with a highway and the same road signs as in Paris, but here it overlooks the Indian Ocean.
The characters all have different backgrounds and origins. Can you tell us more?
First, we have Clarissa, the boss. She is a cop, a mother, and a wife whose husband disappeared while on a military mission in Mali. After two years in New Caledonia, she has returned home to Reunion. She manages her team like she manages her family – she is the glue holding everyone together. Her deputy is a New Caledonian who followed her to the island. Then we have Jackson, a French West Indian who worked for the Anti-Crime Squad in Paris. He is a Parisian through and through, and prefers beer to rum. He left the capital after accidentally killing someone during an operation, and suffers from PTSD. I am also very fond of Kelly, a police officer who is not yet a detective but who dreams of joining their unit. She is from the generation of young indigenous Kanaks from New Caledonia who want to explore the world instead of staying within their tribes, where the collective is more important than the individual.
What was it like filming in Reunion?
The people of Reunion were delighted that we had come to film on their island, which shows there is a global appetite for fiction. The filming was a major operation, with around 100 people working for more than four months. We always make sure we take on lots of interns and train locals in the technical aspects of our profession, to show that everyone can create fiction and remove some of the fantasy from our job. In turn, this opens us up to young people and local talents! We don’t bring in many actors from mainland France; we prefer to hire actors on-site and have them play suspects and minor roles. As a result, we really integrate everyone into the process!