“Germinal”, the hope of a revival for French fiction

At the end of 1993, young Julien and David, aged 14, were taken to the cinema to see Germinal, by Claude Berri. Their teachers then made them read Emile Zola’s novel.

The two boys did not know each other, did not attend the same college, but their whole age group was taken in the formidable promotion campaign which surrounded the release of this very French blockbuster (as opposed to the English-speaking fantasies of Luc Besson). No epiphany resulted from the discovery of the mining epic and this school memory only reappeared three decades later in the memories of Julien Lilti and David Hourrègue, who became one screenwriter, the other director, when they were offered. to give new life to Etienne Lantier, the miners of Voreux and the women of the Deux-Cent-Quarante settlement.

Their version of Germinal is not a film: it represents France in the international competition of Series Mania. This is just one of the innumerable issues that these six episodes have raised throughout their design, production and broadcast: the first major project resulting from the international strategy of the France Télévisions group, Germinal testifies to the desire to be on par with Anglo-Saxon platforms and studios.

And, since the series will be broadcast on France 2, after having been available for several weeks on the French platform Salto, it also represents, believes Julien Lilti, a “Idea of ​​the public service mission in relation to period series”.

Public Services Alliance

In 2019, on the plateau of Shame, adolescent series intended for France Télévisions, produced by the company Banijay, an audiovisual group directed by Stéphane Courbit, David Hourrègue has seen copies of Germinal. The young director inquired about the reasons for this enthusiasm: following a conversation between the managers of the public group and the leaders of Banijay, a new adaptation of Zola’s novel was being considered.

As Manuel Alduy, director of cinema and international development at France Télévisions since February, explains, it was about “Invest in a few high-budget projects, beyond what was made in national fiction”.

The director, David Hourrègue, in the middle of filming.

Rather than turning to platforms, as TF1 or Arte were able to do, the Italian and German counterparts of France TV, RAI and ZDF were called upon. Their contribution made it possible to double the budget allocated to each episode, going from 1 million to 2 million euros, or even more. It was, continues Manuel Alduy “To rejuvenate the public, by touching the assets by a treatment different from the local fiction” while avoiding the call for the participation of platforms thanks to the alliance of European public services.

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