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When it comes to foreign-language TV, everyone knows what to expect: crime dramas, with a couple of turns. 10 offers exactly that – but with a major twist. And multiple turns. And flops. And rivers. Why? Because this Swiss series takes place almost entirely around a poker table.
The premise is simple: a group of players meet on New Year’s Eve for a high-stakes game. The prize? Half a million francs. The twist? They’re all been secretly videotaped by the police, who are hoping to catch a criminal trying to pass off some stolen documents. The cops know who the buyer is – but who’s the seller?
It’s a neat idea, tapping into the claustrophobic feel of today’s surveillance-heavy society – the fact that it was made several years ago doesn’t make it any less pertinent – and director Jean-Laurent Chautems is swift to take advantage, hopping between tiny hidden lenses, overhead CCTV and his own glossy images.
In fact, the whole thing is swift, rapidly raising the stakes like an old-hand at the telly table. In no time at all, we’ve seen multiple sides to Vincent Torella (Jérôme Robart), who brings the players together with a slick, calm exterior – even as he loses the prize money down a ventilator shaft. We see him caring for a dying old man, watching out for his young brother, Manuel (a stammering Paulo dos Santos), and even generating some romantic chemistry with one of the players (a sharp-witted Natacha Koutchoumov).
What’s impressive, though, is the way that writers Christophe Marzal and Christian François (who penned the script alongside Chautems) shuffle through the deck of players to do the same for the rest. There’s Bruno Todeschini as grizzled Patrick (“I could fleece a lizard,” he growls). There’s Julie (Alice Rey), the girlfriend of Vincent’s brother. There’s the young guy, who spends more time looking at his iPod than the game.
Backstories are dealt out for all of them, with their connections and motives gradually becoming clearer. The diversity of the cast helps to keep the formula varied, with Séverine Bujard as older player Birgit Hofer providing a welcome contrast to the flashier contenders and Koller and Clara (Martin Rapold and Sophie Lukasik), the two cops watching, getting time to develop too.
Even the opening titles give us a smart reminder of the faces at the table, accompanied by a catchy guitar-driven theme. That confident style, combined with the pacing, is what gives the show its full house: the decision to stage events in 30-minute chapters, rather than hour-long chunks, enables 10 to turn over at least one surprise an episode without seeming hurried. From secrets in toilets to power cuts, the cliffhangers are frequent but the overall arc simmers gently, creating a bizarre feel of something relaxed but relentless. Before you know it, you’re halfway through the season. Like the most addictive card games, it’s hard to resist the temptation to go in for one more round. When it comes to foreign-language TV, crime dramas are one thing, but 10 is something else entirely. This is different, gripping and cool as heck.
All episodes of Heartless are available for free on Walter Presents, the new, free VOD channel on All 4. For more information on the other foreign-language shows available, see our Walter Presents TV preview guide.