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TELEVISION

TV series review: Thanksgiving

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- Nicolas Saada delivers a subtle and brilliantly directed mini-series that brings the world of industrial espionage into contact with the daily lives of a French-American couple

TV series review: Thanksgiving
Evelyne Brochu and Grégoire Colin in Thanksgiving

"When you love someone, you have to accept their mysterious side... That's why you love them." This quote by the novelist Patrick Modiano – master of the art of strange and enigmatic atmospheres – opens Thanksgiving, a mini-series consisting of three 48-minute episodes first broadcast on 28 February on Arte. The TV series marks Nicolas Saada's first and very successful venture away from the world of the big screen, where his original talent for mixing auteur cinema with genre film first became apparent with Espion(s) [+see also:
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– nominated for a César in 2010 for Best First Feature – and Taj Mahal [+see also:
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interview: Nicolas Saada
film profile
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(unveiled at Venice in 2015, in the Orizzonti section).

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Betrayal, suspicion, counter-investigations, secret meetings, surveillance, allusory threats, interrogations, virtual attacks and defence, secret state services and enigmatic middlemen: all the classic features of your typical espionage story can be found in Thanksgiving, whose plot is set in modern-day Paris (and is based on a screenplay written by the director with Anne-Louise Trividic), but you won’t find any theatrics here, no chase scenes or explicit violence. Because it’s around interiority, anxiety and loneliness that this particular narrative unfolds, skilfully articulating the struggle against the disintegration of a couple’s relationship following the development of a dangerous situation that sees both protagonists attempt to manoeuvre around a chess board on which they are only pawns. 

Secretly developing a new piece of software that can send viruses back to their creators, Vincent (Grégoire Colin) is a French computer genius, MIT graduate and start-up partner with Stéphane (Arthur Igual), who manages the finance and communication side of things. A rather cold and withdrawn character, Vincent goes through a bad patch in his married life with Louise (Evelyne Brochu), an American woman he has been with for over a decade and with whom he has two children. Conducting increasingly separate lives, and each staring at their screens in bed at night (Louise has founded and deals with an upscale apartment rental company), the couple allows emotional discomfort, suspicion and disagreement to sour their relationship, something that is soon picked up on by their close friends (including Dominic Gould and Frederik Wiseman). And nothing is set to improve any time soon. In fact, it’s quite the contrary, as Vincent is soon secretly contacted (with Hippolyte Girardot in the role of the emissary) to sell and leak his software. A betrayal that will propel him into a serious world of fragile paranoia, when the French counterintelligence in charge of cybersecurity gets involved. However, Louise also has a secret side and her own goals to pursue in collaboration with the CIA (embodied by Stephen Rea, in particular) which is pulling the strings. A plan that Vincent may accidentally compromise with his actions. Moving slowly into a troubled world of unspoken conversations, double talk and unpleasant mutual discoveries, the couple tries to preserve their relationship as best they can within the perilous cobweb being woven around them. A trap from which they cannot escape and over which they no longer have any control...

Elegantly and masterfully directed and evoking a sort of Hitchcockian atmoshpere in the banality of the everyday professional and private lives of the two protagonists (excellently acted), Thanksgiving unfolds around the idea that "if you have to search, you can search." An entry point into an intriguing nebula that Grégoire Hetzel's music makes ideally anxiety-provoking. A shadowy world of espionage that soon accelerates feelings of loss around the identity of the couple’s romantic feelings. Thanksgiving is a decent tribute to a genre inherited from cinema (a nod to a passage from The Strangerby Orson Welles) that works in muted actions, movements and looks, allusive signals and silence, far from the loud crash of low-end productions often oversold on new media platforms.

Produced by Capa Drama, Thanksgiving is being sold by Newen Distribution.

(Translated from French)

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