Un village français Screening

Birth. Death. Love. Politics. Even during a wartime invasion, the daily rhythms of life don’t stop — but sometimes, they propel agonizing ethical decisions.

This is the continuous leitmotif of Un village français, a French television series that has become a streaming sensation in America. On December 6, the French-American Cultural Foundation partnered with the Embassy of France, America Abroad Media, and the Motion Picture Association to screen the first episode of the saga, which was originally broadcast in France from 2009-2017 (and eventually seen in 17 countries). Joining the audience at La Maison Française were creator and producer Emmanuel Daucé, and actresses Marie Kremer and Constance Dollé.

Focusing on the lives of the residents of the small Jura region town of Villeneuve during the World War II German invasion of France, Un village français tackles the tough realities and impact of the occupation. As viewers engage the decisions of the fictional characters and town, they confront the question that hovers over the entire series: What would I do? Resist, collaborate, or just survive?

Aurélie Bonal — the Deputy Chief of Mission at the French Embassy — welcomed the vaccinated and masked audience. “Watching this first episode is both a blessing and a curse,” she said. “Because after watching it, I’m sure you’ll be like me — and you will be left with no other option than to binge watch all the 70 episodes that follow.”

Mme. Bonal noted that in the past decade, several French television series — including Call My AgentLupin, and The Bureau — have steadily gained a devoted American following and multiple awards, including the International Emmy. Un village français, she observed, played a key role in this new golden age of critical reception and fervent fandom. “It is much more than a series. It offers a poignant account of one of the most complex periods in French history: collaboration. It is a gripping portrait of a nation at war — at war with Germany, but at war with itself, as well.”

Speaking first in fluent French and then English, Amb. Charles Rivkin — who served as the U.S. Ambassador to France (2009-2013), and studied in France during his school years — next offered remarks. Amb. Rivkin is currently Chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association, and noted the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic upon entertainment. “For over the past year and a half — when so many of us turned to films and television as solace during the pandemic — it really became clear how so many international films and television series brought people together to experience new worlds and cultures.”

Amb. Rivkin quipped that several members of the Motion Picture Association — such as Netflix — who have streamed French films and series “get some credit in teaching Americans to read subtitles.”

“But what happens is, the world sees the brilliance of French programming,” Amb. Rivkin shared. “It’s time for all these amazing series…to be enjoyed by Americans.”

Following the screening, America Abroad Media Founder and President Aaron Lobel moderated a question and answer session with Emmanuel Daucé, Marie Kremer, and Constance Dollé.

America Abroad Media — a non-profit that champions global storytelling through the power of entertainment — presented Un village francais with its 2021 Annual AAM Award in recognition of its worldwide success. (The Award was bestowed the following evening during a dinner at the Résidence de France, the home of the Ambassador of France to the United States.)

For almost 45 minutes, the enthusiastic audience mixed their praise with a range of questions: What plot twists were surprising to the actors? Were they influenced by real life and history? What has been the reaction outside of France, and has there been any controversy?

Dr. Lobel opened the discussion by asking Emmanuel Daucé how the series came about. M. Daucé responded that in the 1990s, he watched cable dramas — especially The Sopranos — on HBO. It was then that he decided to be a producer. “But I didn’t want to copy the American shows; I wanted to do a French show.” And Un village français is just that: “I had this idea, with this genre…What is it to tell the real life of living under German occupation?”

Marie Kremer (Lucienne Borderie) mentioned that since many living relatives of the cast had experienced the occupation era, “It’s in our blood…so to play that, it’s not so complicated.”

Constance Dollé (Suzanne Richard) — whose character becomes the village’s first member of the French Resistance — said that, while she didn’t want to give away any plot twists, there were some shocks for her in the development of her character. Still, these evolutions were examined with the artistic staff. “There was like an exchange…so if something was very hard to understand, it could [be] explained; not so often to change, but we could ask for something.”

Explaining the series’ worldwide appeal, Emmanuel Daucé suggested that, “I think this show is very specific, obviously, to the French history — but it connects with the audience worldwide…because [while not all the countries have had] the experience of being occupied…either some of the countries have a dictatorship at the head of the country, or can feel the danger of it.” Even so, he emphasized that “Our show is not about doing politics. We won’t change the world with our show. But still, it’s a way to look at what happened in France, [and] try to be honest about it.”

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