Looking to brush up on your language skills, or simply fancy watching something different? Over the past year (yes, that’s how long this post has sat on the back-burner for), I’ve devoured a fair few foreign language dramas, some good (i.e. the ones in this post), some not so good (those didn’t make the cut, apologies in advance to fans of Un Bore Mercher/Keeping Faith), and figured the former merited a shout-out of sorts.
Think Y Gwyll (Hinterland), and you’ll be on the right track: dusky skies, desolate yet hauntingly beautiful landscapes and a plot with as many twists and turns as the rural roads which cut through them. Craith opens with the discovery of a young woman’s body, dredged from a lake in Snowdonia National Park. When DI Cadi John and DS Owen Vaughan identify the victim as Mali Pryce, a cold case is reopened, and, over the course of the series, long-buried secrets bubble to the surface. Slowly, a web of suspicion forms around Dylan Harris, a seemingly timid quarry worker with a compulsion to commit atrocities against women. Viewers are in on his guilt from the off, and the series is built around John’s pursuit of Harris. That said, Craith is as much a personal drama as it is a crime serial, with snippets of the detectives’, victims’ and villain’s personal lives threaded through the narrative.
La Mante (The Mantis)
Grisly crimes à la Luther more your jam? Enter, La Mante, a psychological thriller with gore by the bucketful. Twenty-five years ago, Jeanne Deber (aka ‘La Mante’) was imprisoned for a series of gruesome murders. Now, a psychopath is prowling the streets of Paris, committing murders which bear a striking resemblance to those carried out by Deber. She offers to assist the police in tracking down the copycat, on one condition: that she deals only with Detective Damien Carrot, her estranged son who hasn’t spoken to her since her arrest. It’s got the thumbs up from Stephen King, so if that isn’t enough to convince you it’s worth a watch, I don’t know what is. (Thanks Graham, of A New Life in Lille, for the recommendation!)
La Casa de Papel (Money Heist)
La Casa de Papel quickly became Netflix’s most-watched foreign language drama, and for good reason. That said, if the truth be told, as compelling as the plot is, I’d watch it just for the music. The Professor has masterminded a heist like no other. To execute his ambitious plan, he recruits a team of eight individuals, each of whom have nothing to lose and seemingly everything to gain by joining forces with him. There’s Berlin, a jewel thief and The Professor’s right-hand man; Tokyo, a robber on the run and the narrator of the series; Rio, a young hacker; Nairobi, an expert in forgery; Moscow, a miner-turned criminal, and his son Denver; Helsinki and Oslo, cousins and veteran soldiers. Under his command, they will assume control of the Royal Mint of Spain, print €2.4 billion in crisp, fresh banknotes and walk out as free men (or women, as the case may be). Inevitably, holding sixty-seven people hostage and fielding assaults from elite police forces for days on end leads to rising tensions amongst the group, and The Professor’s plan goes (more than a little) pear-shaped.
Le Chalet (The Chalet)
1997. Suffering from writer’s block and plagued by feelings of inadequacy, Jean-Louis Rodier and his family relocate to Valmoline, a tiny village in the French Alps, where his wife grew up. When they attempt to integrate themselves into the village community, they are met with open hostility. Then, all of a sudden, the Rodiers have vanished; no one knows why, nor where they have gone. 2017. Childhood friends gather at a remote chalet to celebrate the wedding of Manu and Adèle. They’ve barely crossed the bridge – which serves as the only point of access to Valmoline – when a boulder tumbles off a peak above the village, destroying the bridge and cutting the group off from the outside world; to add to their woes, the phone line and internet connection at the chalet is down. One fatal accident after another (à la Christie’s And Then There Were None) leads to rifts forming between those that remain, and a sense of paranoia heightened by flashbacks to the past. I found Le Chalet took an episode or two to get going, but once it did, it was well worth binge-watching.
La Forêt (The Forest)
Sixteen-year-old Jennifer Lenoir disappears in the Bois du Fays, in the Ardennes. Days later, her body is discovered, buried in a shallow grave. Tasked with tracking down her killer are local cop Virginie Musso and new chief Gaspard Decker. Gradually, similar, as yet unsolved, disappearances in the same forest come to light, and suspicion quickly falls on Manoa Willem, a hermit who grew up, and lives, in a dilapidated cabin in the forest. Meanwhile, Ève Mendel, a teacher grappling with her own ties to the forest, appeals to Jennifer’s classmates for help. There’s no shortage of disturbing discoveries, blind alleys and unsettling subplots in La Forêt, so if that’s what you look for in a series, this should be right up your street.
Are there any foreign language dramas you’d recommend? I’d love to hear them!