Netflix unveils first original French series

Just two weeks ahead of its launch in France, Netflix has announced its first French original series, the political, “House of Cards”-style drama Marseille, set against the backdrop of the French port city.

Taking inspiration from Marseille’s reputation for political corruption and gangland crime, the series will revolve around a mayoral election between two equally conniving politicians: the long-time mayor and a younger candidate.

French writer Dan Franck, whose credits include Golden Globe-winning mini-series Carlos, created and wrote Marseille.

Other French talent on board includes directors Florent-Emilio Siri, whose films include My Way (Cloclo) about late 1970s pop idol Claude Francois, and Samuel Benchetrit, whose credits include I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster, have signed to direct separate episodes.

Pascal Breton’s Paris-based Federation Entertainment – best known internationally for the successful Sous Le Soleil soap opera franchise – is producing.

Marseille is an ambitious, diabolically smart, fictitious exploration of local politics in one of the world’s most vibrant and fascinating cities,” said Netflix chief content officer Ted Sarandos.

“We are delighted to be working with some of the best storytellers in France to deliver a series that erases the line between film and television.”

The announcement on Thursday (Aug 28) came some two weeks ahead of Netflix’s official launch in France on September 15.

The streaming giant’s arrival is being greeted with a mixture of concern and curiosity by local TV and film professionals who fear its distribution model may put pressure on the country’s media release windows and related film and TV financing system.

These fears have been further compounded by the company’s decision to base its French operation outside of France in Luxembourg, with a plan to move to a European HQ in the Netherlands in 2015, in a bid to side-step higher French taxes and investment obligations.

The timing of the Netflix announcement was viewed by many local media pundits as a savvy move amid the brouhaha surrounding it’s arrival, aimed at showing the local film and TV industries that it was prepared to invest in local content.

The quotes in the Netflix press release certainly set out to prove that parts of the local film and TV industry were positive about its arrival.

“Netflix has given us a blank page to create a House of Cards in French that breaks through unspoken hypocrisy,” said Franck. “This is a writer’s dream and a great opportunity for French producers and creators to enter a new world.”

Director Siri said the Netflix gig had given him an opportunity to break free of the constraints of feature film-making.

“Movies today sacrifice a lot to almighty pacing and often lose the essential: the characters. Current TV series do exactly the opposite, they stretch time and work characters in depth with all their complexities and contradictions,” he said.

“The movie business in France today confines itself to comedy or so-called ‘author cinema.’ TV series give movie directors a new opportunity to explore and express their talents within the full extent of their art. This is why I’m really eager to work on Marseille.”