After clashing with superiors in Paris’ criminal investigation department, Captain Antoine Verlay (Nicolas Gob) lands at the OCBC, a fictional unit charged with solving art crimes. Because Verlay knows nothing about art, his boss, Alexandre Pardo (Benjamin Egner), enlists the help of Florence Chassagne (Eléonore Bernheim), an art historian who works at the Louvre. The two get off to a rocky start. Verlay is not interested in learning anything about art, hoping he can work his way back onto the crime unit, while Chassagne resents Verlay’s dismissal of her expertise and his arrogant attitude. No doubt that they are meant for each other. But getting there will be like, well, watching oil paint dry.
The Art of Crime, in French with subtitles. is highly addictive. Besides well crafted plots, each episode is like a mini tutorial on French art. With each murder committed, the works of a famous artist figure in the killer’s motivation. Florence is not your typical art historian. Her mother, was an Egyptologist, while her father, Pierre (Philippe Duclos), is an expert on Monet and Van Gogh. Florence’s mother died when she was nine and since that time she’s found solace by talking with long deceased artists. These conversations – obviously Florence’s imagination taking over and guiding her – are beautifully enacted with actors portraying Leonardo Da Vinci, Edgar Degas, and Gustav Courbet, to name a few. During the chats, we learn about the artist’s life, struggles, work, and sometimes his death. And, of course, Florence learns enough to help with the investigation.
Florence battles a fear of heights, but when she’s with Verlay, her symptoms disappear. Her psychoanalyst tells Florence that Verlay is her “counter phobic object,” someone whose mere presence can calm her down. When Verlay becomes annoyed by her constant appearance at his side, or her emergency calls when she’s paralyzed with vertigo at the top of a steep staircase, she explains her condition. To his credit, he doesn’t dismiss her fears. Turns out that Verlay has phobias of his own, including a traumatic event from his childhood that is responsible for his inability to learn about art.
Florence’s father is semi-retired and bored. With his wife dead, he does his best to control Florence’s life. When he discovers she’s been engaged to work with the police, he’s upset he wasn’t tapped for the assignment. Duclos is marvelous as Florence’s egotistical and domineering father whose love for his daughter often takes a backseat to his own ambitions. Florence attempts a balancing act with her father, accepting his help when needed, but freezing him out when his interference jeopardizes the case.
With two of the world’s most famous and iconic museums as backdrops, the series is a feast for the eyes. The scenes outside and inside the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay will make many long for a future trip, once international travel can be made truly safe from covid. Besides the museums, solving a murder may involve visiting an historic home, cathedral, hotel, or restaurant somehow connected to a famous artist. In the last two episodes of season four, we’re treated to extravagant stage shows with eye-popping costumes at the Moulin Rouge. And, of course, Florence chats with Henri de Toulouse-Latrec.
What holds the series together, however, are the performances by the two leads, Gob and Bernheim. Gob, a Belgian actor, makes Verlay appealing, and not just because he’s attractive, but because he shows compassion for the victims. A divorced father with two young sons, he has little time for romance. He also respects boundaries at work, making him reluctant to act on his feelings for Florence. Bernheim, too, is slow to admit that she’s in love with Vernay. They are a typical mismatched pair, but their relationship evolves as they learn more about each other and form an effective working relationship. But at the end of season four, with a wedding looming for one of them, will it be too late? Season five can’t come fast enough.
The Art of Crime can be streamed on MHz Choice.
Photos courtesy of MHz Choice.