On the occasion of the broadcast of the very last episode of the France 3 series this Friday, November 18, we immersed ourselves in the plot of the very first episode of the soap opera, 18 years ago. And the scenario was very different from the one we know today.
A few days before the broadcast of the last episode of More beautiful life, which leaves the screen this Friday after 18 years on the air, we have seen the very first episode of this series which has had a profound impact on the public. What to measure the evolution of a program started as a simple soap opera, before imposing itself as a phenomenon of society.
On August 30, 2004, viewers of France 3 discovered the Mistral district and some of its inhabitants. There is the Marci family, François (Thierry Ragueneau), Blanche (Cécilia Hornus) and their teenage children, Lucas (Geoffrey Sauveaux) and Johanna (Dounia Coesens), back from vacation in Canada. They are tired but happy.
Lucas films his parents with a camcorder – it’s 2004. Together, they are waiting for Roland Marci (Michel Cordes), François’ father, who has to give them back their apartment keys. He’s the one who runs the Mistral bar. But he is late, because he is still lounging in the arms of Mirta Torres (Sylvie Flepp), owner of the hotel Le Sélect. Their secret romance is passionate.
We also meet the young Rudy, great seducer and grandson of Mirta. And then there is also the architect Vincent Chaumette (Serge Dupire), who charms Céline Frémont, during her job interview at the town hall of Marseille. The business is almost concluded, remains to convince the assistant to the mayor. Vincent planned to leave Paris to settle in Marseille, but he failed to warn his daughter Ninon (Aurélie Vaneck), 17 years old.
The other pillar of the series
From the first episode, the fundamentals are laid down. Roland and his bar Le Mistral are at the heart of the intrigues. The character is a reassuring father figure and a point of reference for the protagonists.
“The other pillar of the series, inseparable from the character of Roland, is the Place du Mistral, an imaginary but typically Marseille district where all the characters meet”, recalls the France 3 documentary. The greatest adventure of Plus belle la viebroadcast this November 18 at 10:50 p.m. on France 3.
Roland decides to fight to help Rachel Lévy (Colette Renard), a neighborhood figure threatened with eviction by the owner of her apartment, who wants to recover the premises to house her recently divorced son.
It is also at the Café du Mistral that Vincent Chaumette comes to discuss his concern after the disappearance of his daughter, who took her father’s move project very badly. This first episode ends with a (small) cliffhanger: Ninon, who slept on the beach, has her handbag stolen.
“There had to be drama”
Certain ingredients of the series are already there, the scene is planted, the first protagonists settle down. But we are still a long way from what will make the success of the soap opera. Moreover, at the beginning, success is not at the rendezvous. The reviews are murderous, the audiences disappointing. “After only a few weeks of broadcasting, the verdict is in, More beautiful life does not convince viewers”, recalls the documentary The greatest adventure of Plus belle la vie.
“We took a bit full face at the beginning”, recalls Rebecca Hampton in this documentary on the history of the series.
“It didn’t work well because the stories weren’t crisp enough”, evokes Sylvie Flepp. “There had to be drama.”
We see it in the first episode, and in those that follow, the twists are modest and not very thrilling. After three months, the scriptwriters then decided to create new places, such as the police station, and to give a somewhat police turn to the series which purred.
The Mistral becomes a cutthroat
“The authors therefore add to the recipe for More beautiful life the missing ingredients, cruel villains.” The Mistral then becomes a real cutthroat, populated by psychopaths.
Serial killers, mafiosos and madmen then make their entry into the casting. The daily life of the inhabitants of the Mistral then becomes much less peaceful. And the audiences take off. The turn taken by the series seduces viewers. The characters in turn take on depth, even if it means becoming frankly disturbing.
“I still went to the psychiatric hospital, to prison”, lists Rebecca Hampton in the France 3 documentary. “Céline (her character, editor’s note) still tried to kill Ninon, I continued her at knife!”
Success indeed allows the scriptwriters to flesh out the characters, to make them more complex. And to address social issues, related to current events. Homosexuality, identity, harassment, handicap, the series treats with acuity the big subjects which are debated… And moves away for good from the soap opera gentillet of the first episode.