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Read our interview with Bruno Debrandt here.
Plastic surgery. The only plot device more cliched than amnesia. So when a seven-year-old TV show from France turns up on Walter Presents, about a man who is left for dead only to come back years later wth a different face, you might be understandably sceptical. But you’re forgetting two things: 1. This is Walter Presents, and they don’t release bad TV shows, and 2. It stars Bruno Debrandt.
Debrandt, best know in the UK for his role in political-crime thriller Spiral, is a wonderfully charismatic actor, the kind of performer who can communicate all manner of inner turmoil with a slight tweak of his facial features. Yes, even ones that have undergone cosmetic treatment. So the idea of him playing Alexis, a man betrayed by former friend, and dodgy docks trader, Victor, who is then recruited by the police to go undercover in his corrupt operation, is as promising as it is unassuming: the stakes surrounding a bit of illegal shipping may seem low, but with Debrandt’s twitching eyes and determined poker face, the tension is stacked several containers high.
It helps that he has such great chemistry with Aurélien Recoing as Victor, who plays his nastily violent villain less as an evil gangster and more as a figure of tragedy. There’s a genuine sense of joy at his bromantic bonding with Alexis – now called Matthias – and an equally sincere feeling of fatherly concern for the boy Victor’s trying to raise with Alexis’ ex-wife. Because, of course, the soap opera-worthy plot wouldn’t be complete with an awkward love triangle.
Writers Nicolas Durand-Zouky and Simon Jablonka (who went on to write for Spiral and the excellent Elite Squad – also on Walter Presents) embrace the domestic drama without descending into histrionics, boiling down the tension to the shifting lines of loyalty between old friends who know each other more than they realise.
Director Olivier Guignard shoots it with an uncinematic eye, with much of the footage looking slightly dated compared to the slick visuals of modern European TV, but that matches the setting of Dunkirk – a place that, in the docks, less as desolate and unflashy as a graveyard. Montages of containers stacking and lifters lifting create a sense of everyday routine, rooting everything in something far more down-to-Earth than the stylised thrillers of today. In 2017, meanwhile, the old-school appearance adds a sense of past money versus new clashing in a war of traditions as well as values.
Throughout it all, Dubrandt’s prickly presence keeps you hooked, delivering downbeat anger (one inventive scene sees his old self talking to his new self) and even endearing humour (Alexis and his son are a great double act). Split into four parts from its original two, the result is a quietly gripping story that trades in cliches (empty coffins, romantic reunions, bent coppers, wayward teens) but manages to put a fresh face on them. Perhaps plastic surgery isn’t so silly after all.
Reborn is available to watch online and download on Walter Presents.
For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV guide.