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Merlot Or Murder? An Urbane French Mystery Series Gets A North American DVD Distribution
on May 17, 2013
As witnessed by the slate of popular procedural programs on network television, we can't get enough of solving crime! I really enjoy having the opportunity to sample International programs, and the popular French detective series "Blood of the Vine" seems poised to be discovered by a larger worldwide audience. The third season (and I use the term liberally as there are only four episodes in each so-called season) just premiered in France to impressive ratings, and this coincides with Season One and Season Two making their North American DVD debut. The show is centered around an amateur sleuth and renowned wine expert named Benjamin Lebel, played by an excellent Pierre Arditi. In the opener, Lebel is consulted on a murder case where wine seems to be an central motif. This sparks his investigative juices and he launches a personal inquiry which proves he has quite a knack for deduction. Each episode, thereafter, is a self-contained mystery with the police actively seeking out Lebel's brand of expertise.
With the prevalence of TV mystery programs, it's hard to create something that feels entirely new. "Blood of the Vine," however, has a nice mix of cases to unravel. But the real key to the show's success is in its setting. First, the wine consultation aspect may seem like a bit of a stretch but is integrated better than you might imagine. With Lebel on the case, there does seem to be a pronounced rise in the crime within the wine regions of France! Isn't that always the case? But if you give yourself over to the concept and love the mystery genre, there is plenty to recommend this series. It is smart and literate, with style and sophistication to spare. It features a good cast led by a thoroughly believable Arditi. And it is shot in some sumptuous locations. The vineyards, estates, castles and chateau's of the region make a picturesque backdrop to murder. As a travelogue alone, I really enjoyed seeing the French countryside.
Season One and Season Two (sold separately) each have four episodes. The shows are approximately ninety minutes in length for an total running time of just over six hours. There are two DVDs per set. Obviously (I hope I don't have to say it), the show is in French with subtitles.
Season One Episodes:
1) The Tears of Pasquin: The introduction has Lebel brought in on a murder tableau that involves a glass of wine and a row of empty glasses.
2) Le Coup de Jarnac: Lebel and his assistant arrive at a local castle to conduct an audit which just happens to coincide with a murder on the grounds.
3) Margaux's Robe: A personal case finds Lebel's daughter and her boyfriend caught in an accident that just might be sabotage.
4) Mission in Pessac: A case of possible wine contamination has Lebel pitted against a wealthy band of investors.
The show should appeal to those that like mystery programming, in particular. Lebel is an intriguing hero, to be sure. While I didn't necessarily believe everything about "Blood of the Vine," it was still a ride worth taking. KGHarris, 5/13.