Balthazar: French TV – Sexy Cop Show

Raphael Balthazar played by Tomer Sisley, an Israeli-French male, has become my new fascination. I am going to spoil it for you though, but this has not been indicated in the series (at all). My suspicion is and maybe you will prove me wrong, maybe they will, but I think he is the one who killed his wife. At the end of Season 2; there were too many weird things at the ending segment that suddenly made me quite curious. His friend was dead, he was a ghost talking to him and they finally told us another clue – it had to be a doctor. Red Herring of a TV show? We shall find out in Season 3; as Acorn TV has indicated there will be one. Hard to tell with foreign TV.

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Ekaterina – Russian TV Series – Catherine the Great

Of all the women in history, I think I can identify with Catherine the Great the most. I read Carolly Erickson’s book many years ago and was really caught by certain similarities. She married at a young age to an abusive man. She had her sons taken from her (for different reasons than I, naturally, but both political). She was a survivor and saw love as a way to redeem the much needed emotional vacancy within herself. She also never remarried (it is possible she married Grigory Potemkin but it is not documented). When I had heard about the Russian TV series Ekaterina (the correct Russian spelling is Yekaterina), I sat down to indulge myself in the two season portrayal of this great monarch.

It is important to watch this if you love women’s history. There have been other versions from different countries, all of which I have seen but they pale in comparison. The fact that this series comes from the country that she reigned over, a place that annihilated their last monarch so that there would never be one again was tempting to me. I had heard that the series was true to life. I was surprised though as I did not think Russia allowed such things to occur. Communism did away with so much from the past, so much that she worked so hard to bring to this country.

Catherine II was not Russian though. Sophia Friederike Auguste was brought from Prussia (which is now Poland) into the country as a bride for the heir presumptive Peter. She spoke German when she came to meet Peter and his Aunt Elizabeth, who was the Empress at that time. Empress Elizabeth was a very strict Roman Catholic and, well, strict is hardly strong enough a word to describe this very disturbing woman. Catherine was modest and intelligent enough to see how to play her cards the minute she stepped food on the royal carpet. She impressed the Empress yet immediately she was forced to give up her culture, speak Russian (which she had been learning) and take the name of Catherine. This is not too unusual when you look at the Native Americans being kidnapped by the Catholics and stripped of their heritage. It is typical in a power play and, for her, better than being brought somewhere as a slave. There are many attributes of Empress Elizabeth that are not played out in Ekaterina, as they focus more on Catherine. They did allude to the fact that she preferred torture over death (for example: skinning alive, branding, and hanging by their arms behind their back).

The show also showed how Empress Elizabeth came to power and this was by taking the infant heir Ivan VI and imprisoning him so that he could not claim the throne.  Later, she was obsessed with finding an heir different from her ignorant nephew, Peter, who was the equivalent of an entitled rich kid in today’s society. When Catherine gave birth to their son, the Empress took the child, the moment it was delivered and Catherine could not see her son again, except on very rare occasions. She and her son, Paul I (Pavel Petrovich), never regained a relationship ever again either. This is even after Empress Elizabeth died and Pavel was eight years old by now. From a psychological perspective this makes a lot of sense.

Children who are removed from their parents early on (and have multiple caretakers – which he did, as Elizabeth did more harm then good as a surrogate), generally suffer from attachment disorders. In extreme cases Reactive Attachment Disorder. The mother has a hard time attaching back to the child because it is as if she hardly knows this person and suddenly she is supposed to have maternal feelings. This may sound crude because it sounds easy to just give a child a hug. However, it is an extremely difficult process to re-connect. When you have a child taken from you, at such a young age, it is emotionally wounding. The mother, in order to protect herself, must detach and emotionally protect herself. This is where Catherine began to replace love with men (she hoped to have other children and with someone she loved). You can’t replace the loss of a mother’s love. One love cannot be exchanged for another.

In this series, they did a good job for the most part. The actors reminded me so much of the book I had read. I felt like I was seeing the actual people for the first time. While they did not look alike, as you see above, their ability to portray their characters personality was very accurate. Marina Alexandrova (as Catherine II) was a woman of power. She came across as a very strong, willful, persistent, aggressive woman who started out as a young silly girl, yet bright and grew over the course of the two seasons. Julia Aug (as Empress Elizabeth), while a beautiful woman, came across as a very ugly ogre. Aleksandr Yatsenko, (as Peter III) was very immature and even more stupid than I had imagined in my mind. His performance was so great as he seemed to have an ease with being the court jester. All three seemed at ease yet I think his role was more difficult because he had more behaviors to portray (or facial expressions to personify) rather than just prancing around in skirts.

The only drawbacks from the film, that I found distracting, were some of the publicity stunts. It was portrayed as a “love story,” which almost made me not want to watch it, knowing that it was anything but. Catherine II had a great many lovers and this was used against her as she became the butt of many jokes internationally and throughout the court. The film also made a big deal of her love affair with Grigory Potemkin and even showed a marriage which is only a possibility.  They also showed Pavel with a black servant (politically correct nonsense?) From what I can find there was a black family that served Peter the Great but they left the castle once he died and lived out their days on an estate. The second season dulls in comparison to the first season and this is because Catherine II is now in power and so it is more a season of “Which lover shall I choose,” and drama with her teenage son. In other words the second season was just a day in the life of a Queen and the first season was a lot of extreme drama and suspense. I feel they should have ended the series at Season I, which appeared to have initially been the end (they stated in the last episode’s credits that she reigned for 34 years). 

One note of interest and I may be wrong about this but I believe the paintings on the wall were the actual paintings of each of the people being portrayed. In the second season there was a scene in the palace where Catherine II leaves the room and the camera angle lingers toward a painting on the wall that I am very sure was the Empress in old age. I found these aspects touching to pay homage for those of us watching who are history buffs. The end of the second season they tried to portray a humbling experience of Catherine II getting in touch with her spiritual side and becoming a more enlightened woman. It came across appropriately but then the show ended so quickly (telling rather than showing). It would have been nice to show the various changes that Catherine II created for her country, in the second season, rather than being so focused on war, teen angst and conquests of men. I don’t really think she came across in such a great light because reading her accomplishments on the screen credits is not the same as showing her love for the arts, philosophy, science, and many other intellectual pursuits. Catherine II was the longest running monarch in Russia.

What the life of Catherine the Great gives us, as women, is a look at a woman’s rise to power. It is insightful to read about her story, even today, as you think and compare her life (minus the castle), with that of a young single parent trying to have a career and even gain an education. Women complain too much in today’s modern society. They whine about what they can and cannot do. It seems to me that they are unable to take responsibility for their own behaviors in the situation in question, they just want to blame. Catherine II’s story also shows us that women are not perfect or the ideal person in power. She was not dominated by a paternal society, she was the matriarch of her kingdom and her word (and Empress Elizabeth’s word during her reign), was the final straw. In actuality, women have accomplished many great things in history and they have done many bad things as well. It is not about what gender or race or culture that is in power but what that person is capable of accomplishing. We are too desperate today to have a woman or a black or a gay in power and this cloud’s our judgement in making choices for who that person should be.

Un Village Français

A French Village is set in German occupied France, World War II. We are being shown local townspeople being forced to make choices to survive. It is romantic, because there is always love when you are in a traumatic situation. It is not biased and so you see bad Germans and bad French. What is amazing is that the most important thing that you see is people at war. As you watch it, you have to try not to view this from the lens of an educated person who obviously knows what happened during WWII. You must try to behave as ignorantly as the characters are to have an ability to appreciate their choices and empathize with them. Some people you don’t empathize with such as the character Heinrich Müller, who enjoys putting cigarettes out on people. Including the one he loved.

Heinrich and Hortense

Today, I watched the first episode of the third season and was struck by the fact that I felt as I did when I worked in the county government for eight years. In this episode the head of the local government, the prefect (I believe he is called or deputy prefect) is handed a list of Jewish names to round up in the neighborhood. Up until this time, the city of Villenueve was protected and the Jewish people could more or less feel their lives were somewhat safe, although they were unable to run their businesses. In this tiny town, they assumed that the Prime Minister Phillipe Pétain, had the power to protect French Jews from being deported. In this episode we learn that this has now changed. When I worked for the county government our mindset was “What was in the best interests of the children,” until the recession hit. Then it was all about saving money and putting them in the cheapest places. I fought this and all the other changes that were going on until I was put on Administrative Leave for a year and then I finally quit. I quit because their evidence was lies or fabricated stories and I knew I would be fired if I stuck around.  I couldn’t believe that a huge agency like that would be so concerned about me (there were lots of people involved). So while, my personal situation with the government is a far cry from making decisions during World War II, I like putting things into perspective with the here and now.

Marcel Larcher, a communist

When you think of a soldier at war, doing what he or she is told to do, they really don’t have any choices of whether or not they like it. When the “team” loses, suddenly we turn on them, and everyone is punished; whether they really had a choice or not. This is something I keep thinking about as I watch this show. While the character may seem bad, you can recognize a corporate boss; eager to get a promotion. You can see a “company man” who does what he is told. When you are working for corporate America or government, this is how most people behave. Most employees don’t sit down and weigh the consequences of what their boss tells them or how it is going to affect people, business, employees, or the community at large. You just do it because that is what you are told. At the end of the day, you go home to your families and try to forget about what you heard.  I didn’t have a family to go home to, so I went home and thought about my day a little more. That was my problem, I thought too much!

As I have seen a trailer for the seventh and last season, I am aware of the fact that many of these people will be blamed for the choices that they made. Every episode has been and is going to be sad and tragic but that one will be the hardest to endure. The reason is that these characters who have lasted till the seventh season, their lives will have been disrupted to the point of forgetting who they are. Already we are seeing choices that are being made to help a Jewish maid, or a lover, or a business associate who is collaborating to stay alive. They aren’t trying to help a vast number of people though at times they try to get the list, for example, from 20 down to 10.

Daniel Larcher, The Mayor

It is really too bad that most Americans, especially liberals won’t see this TV show. As far as I am aware, the only way you can see it now is if you have MHz Choice which is an international channel you have to pay for and have to know it even exists. I was aware of MHz from PBS when they pretended to collect International Mysteries from around the world. After doing some digging I realized the guy on PBS was lying; all they did was purchase a channel. They had me going though for a while there. American liberals love to blame people and do it so loud that you feel nauseous having to listen to it day after day after day. I feel that most of the time it is very hypocritical and seems to lack in values. I am on the border of the left and right and can never seem to sit on one side.

Jeannine Schwartz

We are in an era now where people are being blamed who had ancestors in the Civil War. They want to take down a statue of a soldier in the South, General Robert E. Lee. He was a man who did his job and because he came from the south, chose this side so he wouldn’t be killing his own family. He was a soldier being asked to lead a team, a side of government. If the south had won, we would want to tear down a statue of General Ulysses S. Grant. I don’t see a need to tear down any statue because I am fond of history. General Lee wasn’t responsible for slavery as Adolph Hitler was responsible for the holocaust. It is apples and oranges; but here in America we are not reasonable people. We allow ignorance to prevail because we feel sorry for them (those in this mindset).

A French Village could teach Americans quite a great deal about having to make choices in a time of war.

Raymond Schwartz

Whether or not they would be able to focus on such a great historical show without finding it racist, I could not say.  The show even shows a shady Jewish character, could Americans handle this? This seems to be the new wave of lying to our children. We educate them with period pieces that have politically correct storylines rather than literal or factual storylines. If North and South, probably one of the last great American TV historical fictions made, were filmed today; it would be such a joke. No doubt they would not be able to create an honest re-make. The actors would complain that they could not do the show because they could not speak the historically accurate lines (which would mean they are terrible actors).

I cannot imagine how tense it must have been to be on the set of A French Village. These actors do not ever come out of character, so that we are able to feel as if we are there; with them. I feel transported into another time and place. I feel tense every moment, wondering what will happen to this person or that. So tense that I had to look it all up online to see who will live and who will die. I just couldn’t keep watching without this sense of relief because it is traumatizing to watch this TV show. I do know what happened and while I try to think like the character, I am not perfect. When you feel like these characters are real people and they actually existed, you know you are hooked and drawn in.

If you have read “The Nightingale,” by Kristin Hannah, published in 2015, you will no doubt appreciate A French Village. I had read it last summer and so it was fresh in my mind. Two completely different stories as Ms. Hannah’s book was a little more biased. I feel it is important that A French Village created a lack of bias so that you can wonder. So that you could have a discussion after watching the show and think a little more deeply about those times.

I grew up with a step-father who took political asylum in the United States in 1956. When I wrote a historical fiction about that time period, it was while I was on leave from the government. It was actually perfect timing to have a sense of communist Hungary. I remember a family member telling me that I was actually on house arrest from my job. At the time, I had no idea why I was being paid to stay at home and do nothing. My father raised me to fear Russians and communists. He told us all kinds of horrible stories. I tried not to be completely biased while writing because I knew some of that was his hatred of people who ruined his life and his family’s lives. As I did research, as most historians due, you read the facts and put together your own interpretation of what you see. This is blended together with the biased interpretations of the people who witnessed. I don’t say biased in a bad way either. No one can ever really know the whole story. A French Village seems to be saying this. They are showing you a broader perspective, 75 years later.

Spanish TV Series Review: The Time in Between

Adriana Ugarte delivers a remarkable performance as a respectable seamstress, spy and loyal confidante to her select group of friends; in the Spanish TV Series now on Netflix entitled “The Time in Between.” Ms. Ugarte plays “Sira,” who maintains strict boundaries and does not cede to the style of Mata Hari. The costumes for this World War II period piece get an A- and this is only because of the shoes which are about 3” too high for the 1940’s. I have noticed this happening more frequently with historical fiction, especially from Spain. The TV Series “Velvet,” also showed some of their major characters in heels that were not appropriate heights for the 1950’s time period either.

The story revolves around Sira, a poor girl from Spain on the eve of the Spanish coup of 1936, which of course is about to be on the eve of World War II as well. She runs off to Morocco with the boy who would take her heart away from the good boy next door. Naturally, we all know he is a player and the character of Ramiro does not disappoint. While in Morocco she meets Rosalinda Fox, a British lady who is the mistress of a Spanish foreign minister. Naturally, while everyone in this TV Series is German, British, Portuguese and Moroccan, they all of course speak Spanish. I find this hilarious when I watch foreign programs but of course we do this too. Half-way through this 17 episode bundle, Rosalinda encourages her to become a spy on behalf of the Brits, using her storefront – which will be moved to Madrid – as a hovel for German ladies gossip. The storyline is rich and the characters addicting. The leading ladies Ms. Ugarte and Hannah New (Rosalinda) are adorable, young and vivacious. Ms. Ugarte could be the next Penelope Cruz coming on to the scene.  I don’t doubt that America will rip her up from her native roots and put her in Hollywood as soon as they can. I hope that unlike Sira, she will not be tempted into this new life and will stay devoted and loyal to her country. Ms. Cruz and Selma Hayek have drifted over to English speaking roles but I find that the characters we give them pale in comparison to the respect they achieve at home.

Naturally you should also pay attention to the fitted suits, thick quality fabrics they are made from, the hats for every occasion, gloves, purses and ball gowns. Other than her peasant clothes (so to speak), there wasn’t one outfit that she wore that I wouldn’t kill to wear. The turbans I could do without as they look especially tight and cumbersome, yet they are elegant at the same time. I could see wearing these clothes in today’s society, if we were still elegant fashionable women – though, the only place fitting these days would be Buckingham Palace or the Oscars; none of which, I dare say, I will ever see an invitation.

If you are a big fan of women’s history and enjoy learning about different era’s through fiction, you will appreciate and adore this series. It is a more honest way of showing a strong woman with some integrity.