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Les enquêtes d'Eloïse Rome


Even though I am wont to carry on about never having allowed television schedules to dictate mine, I found myself very much on hand yesterday afternoon at five o'clock, when Les enquêtes d'Eloïse Rome came on TV5. So, okay, I'm going to trade one kind obnoxiousness for another. I made sure that I was free to watch a scheduled program, just like everybody else in the world, but it was a program in French.

Don't get me wrong. I'd be lost without the subtitles. They flash on sufficiently in advance for me to to expect something like what actually gets said, which is helpful, I suppose. But language is not the draw. Christine Citti is the draw. A young but decidedly ampler Cathérine Deneuve is at once a modern woman and the embodiment of something ancient about the authority of French women. She plays a detective, a captain in the French police, which means that she heads a team. It is a much smaller team than Jane Tennyson's, but she calls the shots. That's the modern-woman part. But she is usually smiling, at least in the shows that I've seen, even when she's nailing a bastard. That's the immemorial part.

The conceit of the show is that the murderers are always "nice" people, never "criminals." For that reason, they are always insisting that they be given special treatment. Captain Rome's way of dealing with this standing on non-existent privilege is perhaps the secret of the show's interest. She is polite but firm, never rude but never deferential. Every now and then she whips out a neat comeback that silences complaint. She also loves difficulty. Her cases seem open-and-shut at first, amenable to the kind of common-sense solution that Inspector Morse's Chief Superintendent Strange always wants Morse to settle for. Captain Rose never settles for it, either. Once her thoroughness and her instinct have identified the killer, there's little that she won't do to trick a confession out of him.

Aside from being deeply charming, Mlle Citti's face is a deftly-wielded tennis racket. She will squint with one eye - I don't think so. She will purse her lips - I'm waiting, and I've got all day. She will smile a little too sweetly - I can do this myself, and I'm going to! While they're nothing silencieuse about her, there is something feline about her inclination to let people reveal themselves. She seems to stay out of the way of her own investigations and watch them work themselves out.

Sadly, I haven't progressed to knowing the names of the other regulars on this show, but they're all very good, and they play off each other well. There is a very salty pathologist, also a woman, who is almost never gentille, but you like her anyway. There's a lieutenant whose looks would seem to have steered him toward romantic leads; he's one of those Adam's-apple acrobats. Come to think of it, Captain Rome's boss is a French translation of Chief Inspector Strange.

What marks the show for me is its equanimity. The suspense is very low, and never anything but cerebral. Such was its allégresse yesterday that, when it was over, I was thirsty for Mozart's genial Clarinet Concerto. Hardly the sort of mood that Law & Order ever put me in.


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Here in the boonies we will never catch a glimpse of Eloïse Rome which appears to be our loss. Non-English TV is very attractive but not very available without a satellite dish. I really enjoyed it when I had access to it in far Southwest Oklahoma, truly the boonies, out past Altus in Mangum. Neat comebacks in French are those termed esprit de l'escalier or does that only apply when actually leaving a party and saying something memorably witty as you leave?

L'esprit de l'escalier - literally, "wit on the staircase" - is a phrase that describes that comebacks that didn't get made, not, at least, when they were opportune, but that sadly occurred to their potential makers on the way out. Wit on the staircase is wasted wit. No points earned.

I came across your site while looking for more information on Christine Citti. I absolutely love the Eloise Rome series!

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