J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dolmen: Getting Blood from a Druid Stone

It must be one of those island prejudices. They do not think much of cops on Ty Kern, even when one of them is Marie Kermeur, the belle of the isle. She has returned home from Brest to marry her childhood sweetheart, but when dead family members start piling up, she insists on getting all detectivey in the six-part French miniseries Dolmen, which is now available on DVD from MHz Network.

The Kersaint and Le Bihan families are like the Montagues and Capulets of Ty Kern. The Kermeurs are civil with both, but you would not say they are close. Something happened way back when that tied the island families together. Everyone seems to know about it, except Marie, le flic. Her family is delighted to have her back on Ty Kern for her wedding to racing skipper Christian Bréhat, but they are just as eager to see her on her way. However, when her brother Gildas has a fatal misadventure near the island’s druid stone circle, Kermeur smells a rat.

Indeed, the circumstances surrounding his death are quite suspicious. For instance, one of the menhir stones starts bleeding his blood shortly after the murder (as foul play is soon established). Kermeur is also slightly agitated by her nightmare that sort of presaged his death. Initially, Kermeur is pulled from the case, for obvious reasons.  Of course, she quickly insinuates her way back into the investigation, because none of the locals will talk to Maj. Lucas Fersen, the hotshot officer dispatched from Brest.

In terms of tone, Dolmen is something of a throwback to the if-I-had-only-known novels of Mary Roberts Rinehart. Frankly, the series’ willingness to kill off Kermeurs is quite impressive, a bit like Game of Thrones in that limited respect. There is no getting around the melodrama of a bride-to-be mourning a brother and learning no end of deep dark family secrets. Still, series writers Nicole Jamet and Marie-Anne Le Pezennec make the most of the eerie Breton locales, incorporating supernatural legends and purported cult activity into the mix. In fact, for most of the series, it is an open question whether the happenings really are of an occult nature or whether there will be a tidy Scooby-Doo explanation for it all.

Teenage boys should keep in mind Dolmen is the product of French television, because Marie Kermeur is the sort of cop who can give men interrogation fantasies. Popular TV star Ingrid Chauvin truly has supermodel looks and soap opera thesp chops, but Dolmen arguably plays to her strengths in both respects. She also works out some decent chemistry with Bruno Madiner’s Festen, who steadily grows on viewers as he sheds his by-the-book stiffness.

Like a Twin Peaks off the Brittany coast, Dolmen is chocked full of colorfully cranky supporting characters, but by far the most intriguing is Patrick Ryan, an Irish mystery novelist and expert in Celtic lore, played with flair and gravity by Yves Rénier. French cinema connoisseurs will also be surprised to see Hippolyte Girardot appears as the churlish Kersaint heir apparent, but does not get his name in the opening credits. In fact, he is totally on the money as the resentful Pierre-Marie, but his character is not given much to do besides glower and sulk until episodes five and six. Likewise, Nicole Croiselle makes a great villain as Yvonne Le Bihan, somewhat looking and sounding like Cloris Leachman in Young Frankenstein, but always playing it scrupulously straight. On the downside, Chick Ortega’s portrayal of the developmentally disabled Pierric Le Bihan is pretty darn cringey.

Dolmen has enough mystery, intrigue, and windswept longing to seduce even the snobbiest viewers. Technically, there is even a ripped bodice, which is appropriate considering the series’ romantic mass market appeal. It is definitely really fun stuff (tailor made for binge viewing), like a slightly more gothic and popcorn-ish Broadchurch, with way more attractive leads. Recommended for those who enjoy French scandal, Dolmen is now available on DVD from MHz Networks.

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