Crime, anti-Semitism, the fate of women ... What the "Paris Police 1900" series reveals about the society of the timeCrime, anti-Semitism, the fate of women ... What the "Paris

Police 1900" series reveals about the society of the time

"Paris Police 1900", the new black series from Canal + (Paris Police 1900, Canal +)

"Paris Police 1900", the new black series from Canal + (Paris Police 1900, Canal +)

The Belle Époque, an era that was beautiful in name only? In any case, this is what the Canal + Paris Police 1900 series would have us believe. In the midst of the Dreyfus affair and against the backdrop of an explosion of anti-Semitism, this ultra-dark thriller where we see very little light du jour takes us on a journey to solve the mystery of a corpse cut into pieces found in a trunk floating on the Seine.

In this fiction scripted by Fabien Nury (La Mort de Staline; Charlotte empatrice), violence is everywhere: among criminals from both the popular and bourgeois classes, among the anti-Dreyfusards grouped within the Anti-Semitic League of France, but also among police with unorthodox practices. Cobbled streets, horse-drawn carriages, bourgeois residences or unsanitary apartments, watches, pipes, cameras and the first telephones, a great effort of historical reconstruction has been made, the result of several months of documentation.

What is "Bertillonage", a revolutionary technique used by the police in 1900?

Paris Police 1900 is above all a dive into the Paris police headquarters of the time with a word that comes up often: Bertillonage, named after the director of the judicial identity police service, Alphonse Bertillon. But what is it exactly? According to Pierre Piazza, lecturer in political science and author of the book La Science à la pursuit du crime published by La Martinière, “this is a forensic anthropometric technique used to identify people using body measurements. ”. We see it in the series, the characters pass under strange devices which measure in turn the width of their skull or the length of their nose.

Criminals could thus be recorded in gigantic files. It is thanks to this invention, among others, that Alphonse Bertillon can be considered as the founder of the technical and scientific police. But not only.

Photography, graphology ... What innovations from the police does the series showcase?

Other innovations by Bertillon for the identification of criminals and expertise at crime scenes are present. Among them, Pierre Piazza cites the forensic photo of the face and profile, the use of fingerprints, graphology - that is to say the study of writing - and metric photos of crime scenes, including the aim was to freeze the mischief as it had taken place. According to Pierre Piazza, the reconstruction of the police at the time is excellent, especially since “many objects - measuring devices, cameras - are real ones, coming from the Parisian judicial identity service or the museum of police Department".

Were the police so violent and corrupt?

A particularly chilling forced confession scene in which Inspector Fiersi tortures a suspect and then throws him on a torn corpse; resorting to physically and verbally abused snitches ... The series portrays a police force with very violent and unethical practices. But was it really the case? According to Pierre Piazza, yes. “Police violence was very widespread, points out the political scientist. Moreover, the prefect of police Lépine himself upon taking office in 1893 announces that he intends to put an end to the "beating", a common practice in the police .... my is going to last a long time, ”he continues. Still according to Pierre Piazza, the use of “flies” and “indicators”, especially among prostitutes, is “very common practice to ensure surveillance of the population”.

Was the fate of women so unenviable?

Women cut into pieces, relegated to the roles of lonely and drugged wives or less virtuous or second-class jobs ... In Paris Police 1900, women suffer an unenviable fate. "The series portrays a very brutal patriarchal universe that really existed at the time," says Pierre Piazza. Many are abused, including sexually ”, continues the professor. An opinion shared by Isabelle Backouche. “At that time of course, they weren't allowed to vote, they weren't allowed to practice certain professions,” she said. Thus, the character of Marguerite Steinheil, wife of a penniless painter and mistress of President Félix Faure, really existed. As is Jeanne Chauvin, an apprentice lawyer who does not have the right to practice the profession. She was the first woman to earn a doctorate in law in 1892, and was also the first to be sworn in as a lawyer at the Paris bar in 1900 following a change in law.

Another reality exposed in the series: the "reports of adultery" carried out by the police, the guilty women then risk being locked up in the Saint-Lazare prison.

Are the different political fringes of the time well represented?

The extent of anti-Semitism in France, with its leagues and emblematic characters, is at the heart of the universe of Paris Police 1900. The plot takes place in the midst of the Rennes trial during which Dreyfus was tried again in 1899. The League Antisemitic of France, created by the deputy Drumont, and the newspaper Antijuif, chaired by Jules Guérin, divide the population. “The heyday of the leagues and the fear of a coup d'état as well as the“ Fort Chabrol ”, during which Jules Guérin locked himself in his home for more than 30 days to escape a mandate launched against him, are events real people who have marked the spirits ”, explains Isabelle Backouche.

Are there any historical inaccuracies in the series?

Some historical inaccuracies are also to be deplored. First, the scale of the investigation around the woman being cut into pieces is not very credible for Isabelle Backouche. "As it is said within the prefecture at the beginning of the series, there were hundreds of disappearances of women in Paris each year. So much commotion for a corpse, especially since it is a prostitute.

Season 2 has yet to be announced by Canal +, but its producers have thought of Paris Police 1900 as a series made to last and a sequel may well see it.

Faustine Mazereeuw - franceinfo Culture

France Télévisions Writing Culture

Posted on 2/18/2021 10:08 AM

Updated 02/18/2021 2:36 PM

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