Les Revenants, The Returned, They Came Back (2004)
Directed by: Robin Campillo
Written by: Brigitte Tijou, Robin Campillo
Starring: Catherine Samie, Djemel Barek, Frédéric Pierrot, Géraldine Pailhas, Jonathan Zaccaï, Marie Matheron, Saady Delas
THE RETURNED (aka LES REVENANTS and THEY CAME BACK) (2004)
Directed by Robin Campillo
French language with English subtitles
A French town is changed forever when thousands of the recently dead return from the grave. Whilst some are pleased to see their deceased loved ones, others are in shock as they are reunited with the ones they’ve lost. However, the returned are different… they are slow, yet buzzing with energy with no need to sleep nor eat, yet lack the personality that made them who they were when they were living. Quickly diagnosed as having a form of aphasia, the dead are unable to form new memories and are constantly haunted by their previous ones, unable to structure any new thoughts and only able to communicate by memory or echoing the living. Whilst the governments house the undead in a makeshift shelter in the community centre, they decide how to handle the influx of people, who all require jobs, clothing, food and financial support. Whilst some return to their previous jobs, others wander around the town aimlessly, with many congregating in groups at night time. With the population’s initial joy fading away with the discovery of the undead’s lack of human ‘spirit’, the undead begin to plot.
The Returned is an unsual take on the zombie genre, by taking a human look at what happens when you wish for something. Unlike other ‘zombie’ movies, The Returned does not feature decaying, brain-munching corpses, nor disfigured shuffling bodies. Instead, the dead appear clean and unharmed, and ultimately, happy to be returning to the land of the living, without a single scratch to their bodies. In this respect, it’d be unfair to class them as zombies, but rather spirits of some sort, though human. As with most films that touch on the subject of resurrection, it’s too good to be true that a loved one will return exactly as they were prior to their death and this film is no different. Unable to make new memories and plagued by ever-lasting memories of their former life, the dead appear to be empty shells of themselves, lacking the personality that made them who they were. Unable to get their minds around the fact, the government and residents of the town try their best to make the dead fit in with society and their normal day-to-day human lives – practically resuming where they left off. This, however, only makes the living resent the dead more, as the returned deceased struggle to fit in despite their best efforts to fake being asleep, being force fed and in some cases, locked in their own rooms to prevent going walk about. Suddenly, being dead seems a lot more appealing than this living hell.
Whilst an interesting premise, the film is incredibly slow and at times can struggle to hold the attention of the viewer. However, the filmmakers wisely chose to explore the relationships across the board, with characters Isham (Djemel Barek) and Véronique (Marie Matheron) reunited with their young son, Sylvain (Saady Delas); young woman Rachel (Géraldine Pailhas) reluctantly discovering her ‘returned’ boyfriend, building constructor Mathieu and the elderly Mayor (Victor Garrivier) reunited with his beloved wife, Martha (Catherine Samie). Each react in a different way to their loved one returning to them, with some having grieved and accepted the fact they’re gone to others clinging onto the memories of the past. The cast do a great job, in particular Jonathan Zaccaï as Mathieu who balances the vacant expression with a slight hint of recollection as he manages to tread through the living, breathing world.
A lack of reasoning may aggravate those viewers who want answers and its plodding nature struggles to excite, but with an inventive take on the undead genre, The Returned is a breath of fresh air.