Maigret Box Sets 7 & 8 (MHZ Networks, NR)

maigret 75Maigret is pure bourgeois, but he can read any situation and talk convincingly with anyone.

 

 

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I’m a big fan of detective stories, but not because I’m an ace at solving mysteries. In fact, an average middle-schooler could probably out-detect me any day of the week. I enjoy the genre because the mystery framework provides an organizing structure that allows the author to go just about anywhere and discuss just about anything. A series of apparent sex crimes can lead you to a web of Vichy collaborators gone respectable, for instance, to take an example from one of the collections reviewed here. Mysteries also provide great opportunities for scene-painting, and a writer doesn’t have to be at the level of Agatha Christie or Arthur Conan Doyle to make this work: I’ve enjoyed many virtual trips to the American Southwest in the company of Detective Jim Chee and Lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, and many a subway car has metamorphosed into the northern Michigan cabin inhabited by Jim Qwilleran and his mystery-solving cats.

Georges Simenon is clearly in the high pantheon of mystery writers, but somehow I never got around to reading any of his books or viewing any of the many television adaptations of them. Until last week, that is, when two box sets of the Bruno Cremer Maigret series arrived in the mail. I became an overnight Maigret addict, and will be hunting down some of Simenon’s texts (he wrote 75 novels and 28 short stories featuring Maigret), as well as more of these classy adaptations, originally made for French television between 1991 and 2005.

For the uninitiated, Jules Maigret (not that anyone ever uses his first name) is a French police detective based in Paris, but who is authorized to investigate crimes all over the country. He’s a big guy who likes his creature comforts, including his trademark pipe; seldom takes off his heavy overcoat; and solves crimes with brains, not brawn. Maigret is pure bourgeois, but he can read any situation and talk convincingly with anyone, from a schoolboy in a French village to the madam of a Parisian brothel. Cremer created perhaps the definitive Maigret (his competitors include Jean Gabin, Rupert Davies, and Michael Gambon) and, independent of the plots and the scenery and all the other good things about this series, it’s a pleasure just to see him inhabit the role.maigret 400

This series is very European—most violence takes place off screen, and the dominant mode of interaction is calm conversation. The pacing is relaxed, in part because each episode is about 90 minutes long, but also because the style of the series is to let the dialogue carry the plot. That may sound boring, but it’s not, because every single location is interesting, and the actors are quite accomplished, as well. The supporting players are mostly unfamiliar to me, but a quick check at IMDB shows that most of them enjoyed long and successful careers in European television and film. The production qualities are all first-rate, and because Maigret spends a lot of time solving crimes in small villages, you get a little mini-tour of France along with your mysteries.

Each box set includes six episodes, each on their own disc, with the discs stacked on top of each other, three to a keepcase. I’ve never seen that kind of packaging before, and while it’s efficient, it’s also a bit off-putting, since at first it looks like there is only one DVD in each case.

Maigret is distributed on DVD by MHZ Networks, which is a good source to know if you like European television detective series—they also distribute Borgen, Wallander, the Commissario Guido Brunetti Mysteries, and many more. There are no extras on the discs, but the transfer quality is good, although the picture can be soft from time to time. All episodes are in French with English subtitles. | Sarah Boslaugh

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