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A fatal promise: Refined crime story on several time levels

Created: 8/6/2022 3:52 p.m

Kommissarin Sarah Castaing (Sofia Essaïdi) sucht in „Die Bestie von Bayonne“ nach dem verschwundenen Mädchen und einem mutmaßlichen Serientäter.
Commissioner Sarah Castaing (Sofia Essaïdi) searches for the missing girl and a suspected serial killer in “The Bayonne Beast”. © Christophe Brachet/ZDF

The Franco-Belgian six-part The Beast of Bayonne is better than its German title suggests.

It happens that you have to defend a film production against German title creators. The Franco-Belgian six-parter with the original title “La Promesse”, which can be seen on ZDF from Sunday (August 7th), is such a case. Translated: “The Promise”. Simple and congruent with the content. “The Beast of Bayonne”, on the other hand, is misleadingly reminiscent of disgusting butchery crime novels.

Possibly inspired by the fact that Olivier Marchal, who previously had a similar role in The Crimson Rivers, was cast in a leading role. There one tries to entertain the audience with tales of severed children’s hands, gutted or otherwise mutilated corpses. The manufacturers even boast of their “particularly bizarre murder cases”.

A murderous storm: crime series on ZDF arouses suspense through psychological details

Anyone who delights in such things will not like “La Promesse”. Although the authors Anne Landois and Gaëlle Bellan deal with crimes against children, they do so sensitively and without explicit cruelty. For them, the tension arises from the psychological aspects and personal drama that arises from the experience of crime.

In 1999, the Bordeaux area was hit by a hurricane. People are looking for protection, and eleven-year-old Charlotte Meyer from Bayonne also wants to go home quickly. While driving through the forest, her bicycle chain breaks. A van stops. Charlotte’s bike is loaded, she climbs into the driver’s cab. Henceforth she remains gone.

Possible serial offender: ZDF crime series “The Beast of Bayonne” takes place in western France

Because the phone lines are down, Charlotte’s mother Hélène Meyer (Natacha Régnier) goes directly to neighboring detective Pierre Castaing (Olivier Marchal). He organized the first search, which was unsuccessful. Full of sympathy, Castaing allows himself to be carried away into making the eponymous fateful promise: he will find Charlotte.

Twenty years later, in Bordeaux, a young girl is kidnapped by the driver of a van, but she manages to free herself and testify to the police. A trail leads to Bayonne. Investigators are once again targeting a local who was among the suspects twenty years earlier. The head of investigation from Bordeaux considers the man to be a serial offender who may have kidnapped other girls in the course of his many relocations.

A desperate investigator: “The Beast of Bayonne” with a strongly written main character

“La Promesse” plays very cleverly on several time levels. The transitions are fluid and deliberately not always immediately recognizable as such. In this way, too, you can create moments of tension.

The focus of the five-strong team of authors is in particular Pierre Castaing, who, faced with the failure of his investigations, becomes increasingly desperate and finally loses control time and time again, hassles suspects, hits them. He is relieved of his job, but continues to work outside of work. Castaing is a dedicated but not a flawless character. He makes mistakes, loses his footing, becomes estranged from his family. Tragic especially for his daughter Sarah, who is very attached to her father.

“The Beast of Bayonne”

From Sunday, August 7th, 2022, 10:15 p.m., ZDF, and for four weeks in the ZDF media library.

“The Beast of Bayonne”: Meticulous staging and excellent cast

The care taken in the staging is remarkable, for example when a realistic framework is created for some content-driving scenes. One of the investigators takes a call at the laundromat – a necessity because he has to work 200 kilometers away from his home office and only has small luggage with him. The fact that the kidnapped Fanny wears a red cap as an allusion to Little Red Riding Hood seems a bit artificial. Fortunately, this is an exceptional case, because otherwise the director Laure de Butler, who has experience in crime, avoids exaggerated symbolism and pretentious directorial antics.

The leading actor, Olivier Marchal, looks back on a fourteen-year career in criminal investigation and the fight against terrorism. Alongside his job, he completed an apprenticeship as an actor and switched to this profession. He is also an author and director. He has won awards as a screenwriter. In his cinema films and series, he often addresses vigilantism, a motif that is also addressed in “La Promesse”.

His film partner Sofia Essaïdi is proof that talent shows don’t just generate minute careers. After her participation in the show “Star Academy”, the native Moroccan found recognition as a singer, musician, composer and actress, as a musical actress she was awarded for her role in “Chicago”. She is proficient on the piano, guitar and percussion instruments. Most recently, she starred in the feature film Nostalgia, directed by Mario Martone, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. (Harold Keller)

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