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The Very Fabric of Nature Is Torn in 'The Returned (Les Revenants)'

The Returned asks a not-so-simple question about how the living would react to the return of the dead, and offers no easy answers.


The Returned (Les Revenants)

Distributor: Music Box Films
Cast: Yara Pilartz, Anne Consigny, Frederic Pierrot, Jean-Francois Sivadier, Clotilde Hesme, Pierre Perrier, Samir Guesmi, Swann Nambotin, Guillaume Gouix, Laetitia de Fombelle, Ana Girardot
UK Release Date: 2013-09-13
US Release Date: 2014-02-05
Trailer
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The French television series The Returned (Les Revenants) is based on Robin Campillo's 2004 film of the same name. It shouldn't be confused with the upcoming American television series, Resurrection, based on Jason Mott's 2013 book, The Returned. Even though each of these shares, on the face of it, a similar plot: the dead begin returning to a small town, only they're not the lumbering zombies of horror films. They show up exactly as they were before they died, with no memory of anything since, and merely want to resume their lives.

Trouble is, living people generally don't cotton to the dead coming back, and these resurrections wake up ancient secrets, guilt, and hatred.

Mott's book and Campillo's film both acknowledge a global scale: the dead, millions of them, reappear everywhere and simply overwhelm the "living" world's ability to integrate them. It's not an orchestrated invasion (as far as we know), but it might as well be for the way it changes the way society operates. Season One of Les Revenants adopts a different approach; there's no mention of the dead returning anywhere other than the sleepy town in the French Alps where the story takes place, a location so remote that, despite modern technology, seems so cut off from the rest of the world that it might as well be Brigadoon.

Only a select few residents are initially even aware of the dead. In fact, the dead themselves aren't aware of their newly-risen state at first, either. So when they show up at the doors of family and old lovers, only to be greeted with anger or fear, things get tense very quickly.

Each episode centers on a single returned character, exploring their lives before they died and the ripple effects caused by their resurrections. There's younger sister Camille (Yara Pilart), jealous of her twin sister Lena (Jenna Thiam) -- who in turn is consumed by a secret that she'd rather Camille not know). Simon (Pierre Perrier) died on the day he was to wed his pregnant fiancee Adele (Clotilde Hesme). Serge (Guillaume Gouix) resumes his activities from his life before, unaware of the role that his brother played in his death. Madame Costa (Laetitia de Fombelle), dead for 30 years, pops back into her husband's life, while young Victor (Swann Nambotin) inserts himself into the life of a young woman unrelated to him in any way.

Victor is easily one of the show's most compelling characters. Small and silent, with haunted eyes, he raises the bar for portrayals of creepy children. Like the others, he doesn't remember his prior life (or afterlife), but he also seems to be more aware of the big picture than the other Returned. Real menace surrounds Victor.

With all of these pieces in place, the show unravels the intricate ways in which all of its characters are connected. Relationships have changed in the wake of the deaths, as have the people who have tried to cope with their loss in one way or another. The world has fundamentally changed for the Returned, as well. If that were all the show dealt with it, it would be compelling enough, but it also introduces a sense that there's something larger, perhaps more threatening going on.

The Returned plays with this sense of supernatural dread in deft ways. It's a quietly told story -- so much so that its bursts of violence are doubly shocking because of how they break the story's reverie. Initially, The Returned has a little fun with horror clichés: a character will see a dead person outside the window, through a mirror, and turn around, only to see the person gone, and chalk it up to imagination. Well, the deceased is gone only because he's walking around the house to knock on the door.

However, these events also offer deeper symbolic moments -- a pinned butterfly escaping its display case or a dead wolf wriggling from the taxidermist's hook, receding lake levels that reveal a flooded town -- that point to profound changes taking place. Sure, the dead are coming back, and that's a pretty big deal, but the show also seems to imply that the very fabric of nature might be irreparably torn.

It's disappointing that the DVD comes with no bonus features, since it would be interesting to hear some discussion of the show's thoughtful, formal presentation, or perhaps how Mogwai came around to their haunting, minimalist theme. What we do have, though, is a sad and often tense show that promises to answer many questions in its second season, although you get the sense that knowledge and understanding will come with a high price.

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This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

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Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

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From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

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Professor Abbas Amanat shines the light of reason and rationality upon this greatly misunderstood nation.

For many, Iran's defining characteristics were forged in only a few short months between 1978 and 1979. It was at this time that the Pahlavi Dynasty was toppled, that a largely secular government was exchanged for one driven by Shi'a Islam, and that the Ayatollahs rose to their dominant position within the Iranian political landscape.

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In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

 
9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.


 
8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

 
7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

 
6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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