Review: "Laetitia", a French gem of true crime, arrives on HBO

French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade won an Oscar in 2002 for “Murder on a Sunday Morning”, on a black teenager wrongly accused of mu...


French director Jean-Xavier de Lestrade won an Oscar in 2002 for “Murder on a Sunday Morning”, on a black teenager wrongly accused of murder in Florida, and a Peabody in 2006 for “The staircase”, his series influential on a sensational murder trial in North Carolina. In the United States, he has solid credentials as a director of police documentaries.

He also has skills as a fiction director, but his efforts in this direction have not been widely shown on American screens. May everything change on Monday when “Laetitia», An anguished and impeccably produced mini-series based on a 2011 murder case that fascinated France, premiered on HBO.

De Lestrade wrote “Laetitia” with Antoine Lacomblez, his collaborator on a precedent and equally excellent pair of mini-series, “3xManon” and “Manon, 20 years old”. Like “Laetitia”, they feature a teenage girl whose eventful life puts her in the orbit of the French legal and child protection systems.

Almost from the start of the series, the 18-year-old main character of “Laetitia” is missing and presumed dead, her scooter lying on the road in front of the reception center in western France where she lives with her sister. twin, Jessica. In six episodes, using the police investigation into his disappearance as a framework for their own sociological examination, De Lestrade and Lacomblez paint a grim portrait of a provincial society inundated with male anger and violence and of a bureaucracy whose good intentions can be thwarted by the budget. cuts, political postures and demoralization.

“Laetitia” takes the form of a police proceeding, but it’s not a mystery that takes on classic form or bends to a desire for cliffhangers and shocking revelations. The identity of the killer becomes clear soon enough, and he has no history with Laetitia. The show doesn’t mention it, but we can see what the two have in common, and maybe what brings them together, are childhoods marked by violent fathers.

What also becomes clear is that the story is less about Laetitia than about Jessica, the surviving twin, who is understandably traumatized but also oddly reluctant as the investigation progresses. De Lestrade walks back and forth in time, with impressive fluidity, showing us the heartbreaking progress of the girls from the broken family in the group home to apparent happiness and stability with foster parents. He keeps us slightly ahead of the police investigation, orchestrating the information in a way that creates growing consternation.

The events of the actual case, which took place near Nantes from 2011, were a bizarre combination of depressing randomness and improbably dramatic, and they could defy straightforward documentary treatment. (A bestselling book about the case the series was based on also romanticized it.) De Lestrade and Lacomblez use their license to shape the story but they don’t sensationalize it in any way – the atmosphere is melancholy reserve, to the limit on but not quite give in to despair.

They are helped by a nice cast, led by the pairs of young actresses who play the twins at different ages. Sophie Breyer and Marie Colomb dominate the action as Jessica and Laetitia, 18, and they are quite good, but even more touching are the two children, Léwine Weber and Milla Dubourdieu, who play them at 6 years old. perfectly capture the agonizing combination of innocence and experience of girls; De Lestrade films them constantly running, playing and jumping on beds, an exuberance that contrasts sharply with their sudden stillness when violence or madness erupts around them.

De Lestrade’s narration rarely hits the wrong note, except for a few moments when a conscientious cop (Yannick Choirat) or a compassionate examining magistrate (Cyril Descours) gives a somewhat stilted speech about class divisions or political demagoguery. (In 2011, conservative French President Nicolas Sarkozy used the case to attack the justice system to be too indulgent on repeat offenders.) The idealism of the officer and the judge replaces that of De Lestrade, and one feels that he is working to control it, to reduce his sermons to the public to a minimum. At one point, as the two chat proudly about male pathology, a worker in the background turns and glances at them over her shoulder quickly. It’s a clever reminder that with Laetitia dead, everything is just speech.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Review: "Laetitia", a French gem of true crime, arrives on HBO
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