Mania series: a preview in the mining area, “Germinal” brings the “black gueules” back to life

(AFP) – “It’s our story, filmed a second time here, twenty-eight years later!”, Exults Daniel Dhollande, guest appearing Tuesday at the premiere of the series “Germinal” in the former site Wallers-Arenberg (North) mine, the main setting for this new adaptation of Zola’s novel, as well as for Claude Berri’s film in 1993.

“My grandfather was a miner, I was an electrician in the mines, appearing for Berri and this time, I had my grandson hired as a galibot (young laborer). It’s extraordinary,” Mr. Dhollande said. , 73 years old, impatient to discover the first two episodes, on the occasion of the Séries Mania festival.

Directed by David Hourrègue, the six 52-minute episodes are produced by Banijay, for France Télévisions, the Italian RAI and the Salto platform. This is the first of the major international projects born out of the “Alliance” of French, Italian and German public televisions, the objective being “for French series to change in scale”, Stéphane Sitbon Gomez recalled before the screening. director of programs at France Télévisions.

The mini-series will be broadcast on Wednesday on Salto, then in a few weeks on France 2.

It takes up the story of Etienne Lantier, a young worker imbued with socialist ideas enlisted in the mines of Montsou, revolted by the poverty and exploitation of the people of coal. He meets the Maheu family and falls in love with their daughter Catherine, courted by another. When the Compagnie des mines lowered wages, the “black faces” went on strike. All will suffer hunger and violent repression.

– “Modern proofreading” –
Like the 1885 novel, the series “pays homage” to these proletarians crushed by the system, shows “their dangerous, exhausting labor, their dignity”, and the beginnings of social struggle, according to the screenwriter, Julien Lilti. “If we have changed the plot at times, (…) I think we did it with a lot of fidelity to Zola’s original intention”.

With 2,400 extras, 700 costumes, and a budget of around 12 million euros, the series emphasizes female characters. The cast mixes famous actors, like Thierry Godard or Alix Poisson, and new faces, including Louis Peres.

The program director of the online platform, Thomas Crosson, sees it as a “modern rereading” of a work “entering the collective imagination”.

Topped by three imposing steel headframes, the World Heritage-listed Wallers-Arenberg pit revives the memory of the extras, including several former miners. Operated from 1899 to 1989, it employed up to 4,000 people. Today it is a center dedicated to cinematographic creation.

– “Uprising of the people” –
“I worked here!” Says Aimable Patin, a 75-year-old ex-miner, “consultant” for the series. “People suffered 700 meters underground, they died, it was not cinema,” he blows. But “it is important to tell, to transmit to young people”.

“We could not do + Germinal + without incorporating the inhabitants, the descendants”, judge David Hourrègue, for whom “each extra” was crucial, in a story speaking “of the spirit of the miners, of the uprising of the people”.

Materials, clothing, techniques: to stick to the reality of the 19th century, the teams relied on the archives of the Lewarde mining center, and the advice of the curator of the Bruay mine museum, Didier Domergue.

Dressed in his grandfather’s outfit and blackened face, Bastien Coquery, 32-year-old specialist educator and extra, sneaks into the room. “I grew up in there, my father’s basement houses a reconstructed coal seam, with mannequins, dozens of objects,” he smiles. “These mines destroyed the men, but gave them their identity.”

From the end credits, the audience cheers the team, standing. “I lived that”, moved the ex-miner Jean Lepczynski, citing “the dead, the fear”, and “the fund, this other world”.