PCould we envisage a more mistralian end? For the last week of More beautiful life, in mid-November, the inhabitants of the emblematic (fictional) district of Marseille join forces to save one of their hostages and reveal a political plot that brought down the cops from the police station one by one. A concentrate of the values of the soap opera, which since 2004 has staged the life of the Mistral, this urban district which fantasizes about the village where everyone knows each other, sometimes shoots each other in the legs, but helps each other in hard times.
After eighteen years on the air, the inhabitants are preparing to bid farewell to viewers, France Télévisions having decided to stop the series. This Friday, November 18 is broadcast on France 3 the very last episode of the soap opera – the 4 665e all the same – before a final prime time. “A collapsing monument”, blow the actors, leaving millions of faithful on the floor. But an end “not sad, which opens up a lot of perspectives”, promises Cécilia Hornus, alias Blanche Marci. Accustomed to torments, the inhabitants will celebrate a happy event: there is marriage in the air!
The teams weren’t leading the way, in the summer of 2004, when they took over the huge decor of the Place du Mistral, set up over 1,000 m2 in the Belle de Mai studios in Marseille. It was necessary to invent this new model of intensive filming – an episode of twenty-five minutes per day – and these intrigues depicting the daily life of a district. The original cast brings together actors mainly from the theater, and does not want stars. In More beautiful lifethe hero is the neighborhood.
At France Télévisions, we hold our breath for the first broadcast, on August 30… But the audiences are disappointing. However, France 3 gives the series time to settle. Changes are made, with the addition of detective stories and more intense drama to spice up the – all too normal – daily life of the Mistralians. The mayonnaise takes and, in a few years, the soap opera becomes a phenomenon. Up to 6.8 million viewers watched their TV every night during the show’s peak in 2008.
The production finally holds the right recipe. On the one hand, endearing characters, with whom the viewer can identify, to the point that he has the impression of knowing them better than his neighbours. “It works so well that, in the street, people call me Thomas”, smiles Laurent Kérusoré, when Jérôme Bertin, who plays the cop Patrick Nebout, is amused when we ask him for educational advice, “ with [ses] three teenagers” yet fictitious!
On the other, stories that stick to the news and to the debates that agitate society. In 2005, PBLV depicts a languorous kiss between Thomas and Nicolas : the first gay kiss broadcast at prime time in France. Having become emblematic, the character of Thomas Marci, waiter at the neighborhood bar, is a “pride” for the actor who carried him. Over the years, Laurent Kérusoré has received hundreds of testimonials from viewers telling him how much he had helped change their view or that of their loved ones on homosexuality.
End of life, rape, abortion, GPA, drugs… Almost all subjects, including the heaviest and most delicate, have been covered. “It was really societal, it spoke to people,” says Laurent Kérusoré. Jérôme Bertin agrees: “It allowed an audience that had completely dropped out of the news to get information in another way. “All integrated into a well-rehearsed mechanism, with intrigues that span several weeks and overlap to always keep the viewer in suspense. Without mercy: in More beautiful life, no symbol is immortal, not even the hotel on the square, burned down twice. A month and a half from the end, the writers also did not hesitate to kill one of the pillars of the soap opera, the boss of the Mistral bar, Roland Marci (played by Michel Cordes).
Completed by the competition?
In eighteen years, the screenwriters have tested many formats, sometimes pushing as far as the supernatural. “The enormous strength, explained ex-producer Sébastien Charbit, is that it’s not a concept series that runs out after a few years: it’s a series of characters. We were therefore able to renew ourselves freely and challenge the initial model. Over the years, the plots were increasingly designed in chapters, treated in several times over several months – even years – for more realism. Like the subject of transidentity, making it possible to follow the transition of one of the teenagers in the series throughout his high school years rather than sending him off in a few weeks.
But success always makes people envious. After fifteen years of reigning alone over the PAF, PBLV has seen competing soap operas flourish on TF1 – tomorrow belongs to us and Here it all starts – and even on sister channel France 2 – such a big sunproduced internally when More beautiful life was the work of Newen, recently bought by TF1… Faced with these three young successes, the history, whose audiences were eroding, did not succeed in raising the bar despite attempts at modernization. PBLV remained however one of the French series most watched replay. Not to mention the massive piracy (several hundred thousand views, depending on the production) of ultra-fans who watched the episodes broadcast in advance in Belgium and Switzerland. Not enough to convince France Télévisions to save its nugget. To better rise from its ashes? According The Marseillaisetechnicians and actors are working on a Scop project to bring the series back to life, in a collaborative way…