If you are learning French in France you are probably looking for a great TV series to sink your teeth into whilst developing your language skills at the same time. I was recommended ‘Marseille’ by one of the other students on my Intensive French course for adults at the ILA Language School. From what I had heard about it before hand I was very intrigued and decided to give it a watch and have found it very engaging for both its entertainment but also found it is very well suited to those of us studying French in France. Also my French immersion course is in Montpellier which is fairly close to Marseille so I will be visiting it sometime soon and it would be great to get a feel for landmarks and have some insight into the city. Even if it is a fictitious one.
A note on spoilers: I will be discussing somethings that take place during the first episode and the direction of things but not major events or plot twists. If there are plot twists. I’m not saying there are plot twists. But if there are I won’t discuss them.
Good to Watch, Great to Learn French
The first thing that attracted me to the show was its leading man; Gérard Depardieu. Even before I developed a passion for French culture and France itself I knew about this actor and had seen him in various films from a young age and he is a very recognisable figure across the world. The man himself is also extremely interesting and controversial; he recently gave up his French citizenship after a disagreement with the government and is now technically a Russian citizen. These legally verifiable events coupled with rumours and whispers make the man a legend, for good or bad is not for me to say but he certainly is… An interesting character.
The opening scene makes the same true for his character in the series Marseille. The first shot wanders into a dimly lit room where Depardieu is sat doing something he definitely shouldn’t be as mayor of one of the biggest cities in France. The first few scenes of Marseille paint a darkly mysterious picture of this character. His has been the big boss for 20 years and the plot centres around his quest to undertake one last immense project for the city. He has a fight on his hands as it quickly becomes clear apparent allies may be anything but.
A thing I found interesting is the feel for the city the series captures. Having never been there it’s hard for me to be any kind of judge but from what I have read or heard the contrast of the city is obvious. Some of the most luxury areas overlook quarters gripped by crime and poverty and the series naturally flows through these different areas seamlessly as it tracks various characters. As it does so you catch glimpses of nobler aspects to the lead character which adds intrigue and depth to the show.
The series is available on Netflix so as always there are subtitles in tons of languages but I hope you are feeling brave and either opts for French or none at all. Even when the dialogue strays into unknown territory for me I find it easy to follow the main plot even if some of the nuances escape me. Some critics have taken quite a harsh stance towards the series and one of the more common accusations is that the series lacks subtlety and is a little rough around the edges. Funnily enough this has had a strange but positive effect for people like me who are trying to learn French. Some things like the music or direction in general make it pretty obvious what you are supposed to be feeling. I feel like it’s easy to tell if a person is plotting or about to lie before they have even started speaking. Also when the characters use their phones some of the messages are displayed in the shot so you get to try out your written comprehension too.
The series feature some established French actors like Géraldine Pailhas and Benoît Magimel who are good names to know if you are interested in French culture which I would assume you are if you are learning French in France or considering coming to a language immersion school like ILA. So I recommend giving Marseille a try and see what you think, I think it is a solid series for entertainment but a gem for those of us studying French language in France.