Review: ‘Laetitia’, a French True Crime Ship Coming to HBO

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French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade stars in “The Staircase” about a Black teenager wrongly accused of a murder in Florida and a Peabody in 2006, and “Murder on a Sunday Morning” in 2002. He won an Oscar. Sensational murder case in North Carolina. He has solid credentials in the United States as a producer of crime documentaries.

He also has talents as a fiction director, but his efforts in this direction did not see a significant play on American screens. When everything changes on Monday”LaetitiaA mournful, impeccable mini-series based on the 2011 murder case that riveted France is premiering on HBO.

De Lestrade, with his collaborator Antoine Lacomblez, wrote “Laetitia” in an earlier and equally excellent film. miniseries couple, “3xManon” and “Manon, 20 Years”. They include a teenager like “Laetitia” whose troubled life has put her in the orbit of the French judicial and child protection systems.

As soon as the show begins, the 18-year-old main character of “Laetitia” is missing and presumed dead, her scooter lying on the road outside the foster home in western France where she lives with her twin sister Jessica. Using the police investigation of her disappearance as the framework for their sociological investigation, De Lestrade and Lacomblez bring together a bleak portrait of a provincial society infested with male anger and violence, and a bureaucracy whose good intentions can be thwarted by budgets. cuts, political standing and demoralization.

“Laetitia” takes the form of a police procedure, but it is not a mystery that takes a classical form or fuels a desire for cliffhangers and shocking revelations. The identity of the killer is revealed pretty early on and he has no history with Laetitia. The show doesn’t matter, but we can see what the two have in common and perhaps what brought them together was their childhood scarred by abusive fathers.

It also becomes clear that the story is not about Laetitia but about the surviving twin Jessica, understandably traumatized but also curiously speechless as the investigation progresses. De Lestrade moves back and forth in time with impressive fluidity, showing us the heart-wrenching progression of girls from a broken family to a group home to visible happiness and stability with foster parents. It puts us a little ahead of the police investigation by arranging the information in a way that creates growing horror.

The events in the original case, which occurred near Nantes in early 2011, were a bizarre combination of depressingly random and incredibly dramatic, and could defy straight documentary treatment. (A bestselling book about the case on which the series is based also fictionalized it.) De Lestrade and Lacomblez use their licenses to shape the story, but they are by no means a sensation – the atmosphere is melancholy cautious, borderline. clear, but not entirely despondent.

They are assisted by a good cast led by young actresses playing twins of various ages. Sophie Breyer and Marie Colomb dominate the action as 18-year-old Jessica and Laetitia, and they’re pretty good, but even more powerfully are the two kids, Léwine Weber and Milla Dubourdieu, who play them as 6-year-olds. perfectly capture the girls’ sad combination of innocence and experience; De Lestrade captures them constantly running, playing and jumping on beds, in stark contrast to their sudden immobility when violence or madness rages around them.

De Lestrade’s storytelling seldom gets a wrong note, except for a few moments when a conscientious policeman (Yannick Choirat) or compassionate investigating judge (Cyril Descours) gives a somewhat smug speech about class distinctions or political demonstrations. (In 2011, conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy dismissed the case. attack the judicial system because you’re too tolerant in repeat offenders.) The idealism of the officer and the judge supersedes De Lestrade, and you can feel that he is working to keep him in check, keeping his lecture to the audience to a minimum. At one point, the two are justifiably bickering about male pathology, while in the background a female worker turns and gives them a quick glance over her shoulder. A subtle reminder that with Laetitia’s death it’s all just talk.

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