Waitress Laëtitia Perrais was murdered on the verge of crossing the threshold into her future. He was 18 years old and had a very long past. She knew violence at the age of stuffed animals and continued to haunt it as she grew up. On January 18, 2011 Tony Meilhon executed the definitive violence (kidnapping, rape and strangulation). Meilhon had been in jail for a sex crime, which sparked a fierce debate in France about the penalties for repeat offenders, which had then-President Sarkozy as one of its great agitators. Meilhon, too, had known violence since he was a child. Too many violence that led the historian Ivan Jablonka to delve into the fact in a book, Laëtitia or the end of men (Anagrama), which swept sales, awards and bravery: “The Laëtitia case it reveals the specter of misguided masculinities in the 21st century, male tyrannies, deformed paternities, the patriarchy that does not finish dying ”. It was not easy to translate such a work into film language, capable of combining the criminal narrative with sociological and historical vivisection. If anyone could succeed in the transfer, it was Jean-Xavier de Lestrade, responsible for the miniseries that premiered in 2019 in France and can now be seen on Filmin. “A great deal of media attention was generated on the crime and its murderer, Tony Meilhon, who even has a page on Wikipedia. We know a lot about Laëtitia’s death, but we don’t know that much about her life. My main purpose was to tell that Laëtitia was not only the victim of a terrible crime, that she had a life, in some ways tragic, and that she also acted like a hero from the beginning to the end ”, explains Lestrade.
In order for life to prevail over death in fiction, the director made a firm decision: “In the six episodes you don’t see how they kill her. From the beginning I knew that she did not want to show how she died, she wanted people to remember her in images singing, having fun, living ”.
The French filmmaker hesitated before taking on the task despite the endorsement of works that demonstrated his mastery to put up real crimes with more than efficiency. In 2002 he won an Oscar for An ideal culprit, documentary about the trial of Brenton Butler, a black teenager accused of a murder he did not commit. And his 2004 series The Staircase, which brought to the screen the story of Kathleen Peterson’s death and the trial against her husband, writer Michael Peterson, became an international success. Crimes, robes and teenagers reappeared in Manon’s life in 2014, the same year that Ivan Jablonka contacted Jessica Perrais’s lawyer (in the series, Sophie Breyer) to tell her that he wanted to write a book that would talk about her sister, yes, but also about a generation and a time. “Laëtitia does not count only because of her death”, she states in her book, “her life also matters to us because the young woman is a social fact. She embodies two phenomena bigger than her: the vulnerability of children and gender violence ”.
Supported by a luminous Marie Colomb, capable of being a fragile and decisive Laëtitia, who in those hours of rebellion and hesitation finds death, Lestrade manages to condense the different layers of history into six 45-minute chapters. In this way, it avoids one of the risks of complex literary adaptations: it neither falls underlining nor eliminates branches to facilitate rapid digestions. One of its regular actresses, Alix Poisson, dazzles here in brief forays as the social services educator who takes responsibility for the Perrais twins when they land in the child protection system. The educator will quit her job because she feels that she failed in her mission with the sisters. “The life of Laëtitia and Jessica impresses you,” says the director, “it can remind you of The MiserablesYou have to ask yourself if a modern democracy protects people who need to be protected, especially children who are victims of abuse or violence ”.
Individual and social responsibility is the big issue in this series. If Tony Meilhon is a monster, when was he forged? Was he fed by action or omission? If Gilles Patron, the sisters’ foster father, appears to be the perfect caring citizen, how did no one detect the disguise? The series brings to light more monsters than are presumed to start: the biological father of the girls (a convincing Kévin Azaïs, who has been on a roll since he won the César to the revelation actor for Les combattants in 2014) or the foster parent (an intimidating Sam Karmann who just might squeak when he gives up self-control). Lestrade uses flashbacks and of real images to show the context that surrounded the case, from the demonstrations in support of the family to the criticisms of Nicolas Sarkozy for the release of Meilhon (in the series, played by the actor of the French Comedy, Noam Morgensztern). “Sarkozy tried to exploit the great pain that people felt. He said that the judges had not done their job and tried to use the Laëtitia case to initiate a very repressive policy of long sentences, ”recalls the director.
In this history of men’s violence against women there are also some good men, such as Commissioner Frantz Touchais (played by Yannick Choirat, with a long theatrical history) or Judge Martinot. And there are explicit violence and implicit violence. Laëtitia is the victim of his father, his caretaker and his murderer, but also of a State that did not protect neither his childhood nor that of the criminal while he was a helpless child. And Lestrade’s criticism has an impact on that: “The purpose of the series is to tell people that the origin of the violence does not lie in the judges being soft, the origin of the violence is that we do not protect the people enough when it needs to be protected ”.
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