DVD: Passenger, The / Passager, Le (2014)

December 21, 2016 | By

Passenger2014Film: Excellent

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  MHz Networks

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  October 18, 2016

Genre:  Crime / Mystery / TV mini-series

Synopsis: A rogue detective and an amnesiac psychiatrist conduct thei own rival murder investigations until the two must inevitably team up to save themselves.

Special Features:  (none)




Jean-Christophe Grangé is the master of the over-convoluted mystery, and it’s no surprise his latest work, scripting the TV adaptation of his novel The Passenger / Le Passager, starts with another curiosity-inducing hook that takes the viewer through a whirlwind of confusion, oblique turns, surreal images, potential conspiracies, unlikely romances, undulating suspicions of guilt among characters and viewers, and a closing punchline that requires stepping back to retrace the events to make sense of what the Hell just happened over several hours.

Grangé’s international fame stemmed from the novel and subsequent film adaptation of Crimson Rivers, a dizzying tale of murder, a college locked in mountainous isolation, a serial killer, and a crazy genetics scheme that linked seemingly disparate events together – sort of – until a finale which, in the film, offered an improvement over Grangé’s prose ending. The book is still a unique marvel of mystery and indicative of his storytelling style: two story strands that collide at the midpoint, pitting two rivals together to solve a surreal series of killings, and the insane deep-sixed mystery that lies buried under a community’s lies.

His other Byzantine work, Empire of the Wolves, had Grangé over-reaching with a third story strand, resulting in a mess punctuated with a ludicrous climax involving a cult, a serial killer, drugs, sexual assaults, and amnesia, but one can argue Empire served as a cautionary example of how far Grangé should go in film, hence the leaner narrative in Passenger that’s broken up over six addictive cliffhanger episodes that do provide closure, but leave the door wide open for a sequel.

The initial impression from the first episodes is a riff on TV’s Hannibal (2013-2015), but that’s just one of Grangé’s red herrings. In drawing from his toolkit of distractions, Passenger is initially about Bordeaux detective Chatelet (Raphaëlle Agogué) investigating sacrificial murders of heroin addicts, and encountering suspicious psychiatrist Mathias Freire (La Femme Nikita’s Jean-Hugues Anglade) who’s self-tasked with deciphering an amnesiac witness. Within a short time no one appears to be who they are, leaving Chatelet to further test the patience of her department, ultimately going rogue and relying on two loyal colleagues Le Coz (Michael Cohen) and Jaffar (Hocine Choutri), and cryptic statements from her estranged father with ties to a shady industrial firm.

Meanwhile, Mathias’ own amnesia runs through layers of differing personas, and he mounts his own investigation to find his one true self, sometimes working with or against Chatelet, and ultimately stumbling upon a secret past that’s quite insane.

Grangé’s narrative and plotting hallmarks are all present in Passengers, but as things accelerate towards the finale, there are fewer moments when characters pause, reassess, and absorb new details for our benefit; the series isn’t confusing, but it is a deep mass of twists and turns. Things more or less make sense, albeit with a few hasty decisions by characters, and strokes of highly fortuitous luck and convenient escapes. (In fact, the only imbecility that glows from the overall mini-series is Chatelet’s ignorance of a deep arm wound from a dog bite, which she refuses to treat, and heals without any incident.)




One oddity remains in a grey zone of confusion: the layers of images under Mathias’ paintings visible only through x-rays. Why did he initially paint friezes of the ritualistic killings before they occurred? How did he know the images were dangerous and needed to be hidden? Did the killer know the content of the paintings and choose to replicate them for real? And if so, how did he know the paintings would be examined under x-ray to reveal the portentous friezes and implicate Mathias as the prime murder suspect?



Specific plot quandaries aside, Passenger is fun escapism for fans of convoluted mysteries and Grangerphiles who regard such crazy plotting as personal challenges in problem-solving and patience-testing. Jérôme Cornuau’s direction is tight yet free from ADD-editing, and the production design is truly sumptuous: locations favour modern architecture and modern conversions of classic buildings, the soft pastel palette flatters the modern furniture and interior designs of every set.

Olivier Florio’s score is fairly sparse, easing in and our of scenes, and director Cornau avoids flashy music montages, keeping a fixed eye on advancing the plot, and sticking to a tight pace given the ridiculous wealth of information packed into roughly 5+ hours of content.

Mathias and Chatelet are evenly balanced in skills, stubbornness, intellect, and physical skills, with the romance never bringing the narrative to a crashing halt – itself unusual for a Hollywood equivalent which would mandate any love scene(s) be longer, and overtly passionate. (The unlikely couple are attached through a belief of mutual faith, and being on the run and professionals, acknowledge their mutual attraction, but keep it in check because, well, they are on the run.)

If Grangé opts for a sequel, he should be mindful of the failures with Empire and simplify things to two main strands or, as in his novel of Crimson Rivers, plant periodic explanatory markers to prevent viewer befuddlement. Grangé’s filmed works include Crimson Rivers (2000), Empire of the Wolves (2005), The Stone Council (2006), Switch (2011), Flight of the Storks (2013), The Mark of Angels – Miserere (2013), and The Passenger (2014), plus the original screenplay for Vidocq (2001).



© 2016 Mark R. Hasan



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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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