'L'Embrasement' breaks new ground in France


PARIS -- Gallic TV channel Arte broke broadcasting ground Friday by airing "L'Embrasement," a fictionalized telefilm based on a real life tragedy that shocked the nation. The telefilm focuses on the electrocution of three suburban children at an electric plant after being chased by the police.

The TV movie marked the first time that a French fictional film featuring such recent and controversial matter has aired in the territory.

Loosely adapted from "L'Affaire Clichy, morts pour rien" (The Clichy Affair, dead for nothing) by lawyers Jean-Pierre Mignard and Emmanuel Tordjman, the film combines real footage of Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's televised public addresses with black and white flashbacks and fictional characters.

The film attracted more than 1.6 million viewers with a 4.1% market share -- strong numbers for the independent channel that rarely generates the size of audiences that the major Gallic terrestrial channels bring in.

"L'Embrasement," which means "the blaze" in French, was shot in Clichy-sous-Bois and features the participation of many inhabitants of the town that caused such a media frenzy just a little over a year ago. The children's families were consulted and allowed to see the parts of the script that concerned them before shooting began.

With a budget of €1.5 million ($1.9 million) co-financed by Arte France, 13eme Rue, the Ile-de-France region, the CNC, the Procirep, Cineteve and the National Agency for social cohesion and equal rights, the film was completed in just six months to coincide with the presidential campaigns.

"The principal risk in the film was to highlight the impossible communication between the police and the kids and the lack of understanding between France and its suburbs. Fiction allows us to show the real experiences of these people from the inside," director of Fiction at Arte France Francois Sauvagnargues said.

"I'm happy with the results," director Philippe Triboit said. "It's a strong performance, especially for a film that is more political and not just pure entertainment. I'd like to see people see the film again and again, of course." Arte will re-air the film through Jan. 19.

The choice to air the film last Friday was especially timely, with the French presidential elections just around the corner and suburban poverty and violence important campaign issues leading up to April's vote.

Interior Minister Sarkozy, an unintentional star of "L'Embrasement," will battle Socialist Segolene Royal for the top seat in Gaul's government. The film has been described by critics as highly critical of Sarkozy's handling of the situation.

The series wasn't limited to over-the-air broadcast -- as of Jan. 11, 60,000 DVDs of the telefilm were available to the public as part of a free supplement to French newspaper Le Nouvel Observateur in addition to a VOD format accessible at www.arte.tv free for the first seven days after its broadcast.