The future was yesterday, but the seeds of the present-day and of dazzling moments yet to come were already germinating back in the 1980s, where mixed-race working-class regions of Paris and its suburbs found themselves decimated by a heroine epidemic. A new culture was starting to spread from San Francisco to Europe : hip-hop and breakdancing, graffiti, DJs and scratching, a culture which would continue to grow and change shape, placing youths who were often born in France to immigrant parents centre stage, and reinventing integration, taking control of it by creating new codes.
By way of Reign Supreme [+], the first two episodes of which were unveiled in a world premiere within Series Mania’s international competition, Katell Quillévéré and Hélier Cisterne (who directed this 6 x 52’ work, which they also created alongside Vincent Poymiro and David Elkaïm in collaboration with Laurent Rigoulet) are also undergoing a transformation and trying their hand for the first time, and with great success, at a series after turning countless heads in the world of film (the former in Cannes and Venice via Love Like Poison [+], Suzanne [+] and Heal the Living [+], the latter with Vandal [+] and Faithful [+]). It’s a foray into a new artistic world which proves beyond all doubt that the talent and skill developed by way of the 7th art can (while respecting the rules of the genre) lend finesse to French series – whose quality is still, at times, erratic – and benefit works in every respect (in terms of visuals, acting, rigorous directorial approaches, etc.).
In 1983, Daniel (Andranic Manet) has a revelation in California and returns to Paris with a message (and several LSD tabs to boot): “I’m giving up bass, it’s all about decks now, I saw the future over there, and DJs”. All that remains for the man who will become Dee Nasty and who will sign his name to the album Paname City Rappin’ is to find his way through a day-to-day life which sees him getting by with next to nothing in the neighbourhood of La Chapelle, pinballing between illegal independent radio stations, troubled friends and love (with Leo Chalié). Meanwhile, on the Allende estate in Saint Denis, youngsters Bruno Lopes (Anthony Bajon) and Didier Morville (Melvin Boomer) are learning more about one another. The former gives up a potential career as a professional footballer, much to his parents’ annoyance, while the latter tries to avoid his violent father. From Trocadéro to La Grange aux Belles, the two friends throw themselves body and soul into hip-hop dancing (which appears on the small screen for the very first time: “I’ve never seen so many blacks on TV”). And a year later, a little further down south, on the paving slabs of the Olympiades district, graffiti artist Vivi (Laïka Blanc-Francard) charges onto the scene… All the ingredients are there for a decade of profound change which will see Bruno and Didier becoming Kool Sheen and Joeystarr and forming rap group NTM, before the series ends in March 1991 with the legendary concert held in Mantes-la-Jolie under the spotlights.
With its highly likeable characters, its brilliant balance of ingredients (the social context marked by the beginning of the rise of the extreme right and the various integration issues, the series’ exploration of Paris’s artistic underground world, the freshness of the work with its comedic moments, closely linked with the young age of its characters who are each accorded the space they need in the story) and, of course, its perfect pace and first-rate soundtrack, Reign Supreme delivers on its promises and leaves us eager for further episodes.
Produced by Les Films du Bélier in co-production with Arte France and Perpetual Soup, in association with Netflix, Reign Supreme will arrive on Arte in the autumn before dropping on Netflix at a later date.