Belphégor, The Renewed Legend

by Annick Teninge

© Les Armateurs/ France 2/France 3/ Tooncan.

The story of Belphégor has fascinated the entire country of France since the '60s, with the introduction of a live-action television series that now belongs to France's cultural inheritance. Based on a novel written by Arthur Bernède in the '20s, the author took a mythological character from the recesses of antiquity and assigned him an identity that captured the imagination of the country when brought to television.

Today Belphégor is a 26 x 26-minute animated series co-produced by France Television (France 2 and France 3), Les Armateurs (France), Toocan (Canada) and Price RG (Korea). The story is of a mysterious phantom, Belphégor, that haunts Paris, from the Louvre museum to the Opera House to the city's catacombs, while being pursued by the Paris police chief and two valiant journalists, Jacques and Sarah, who try to confound his evil plans...Gérald Dupeyrot, who is also the script director, created the series. Jean-Christophe Roger directs it and Frédéric Bezian is the artistic director. The first episodes will broadcast on France 2 at the end of this year, while France Television Distribution has just released the first video of two episodes "Le Fantôme du templier" and "La preuve par 24."

The animated version is a modern, expressionistic adaptation of the live-action Belphégor series, with a strong graphic style. It successfully recreates an eerie universe, where even the city of lights becomes a haunting character. The series is also characterized by very ambitious scripts -- multi-layered stories that drag you along, losing you in the complexity of the characters and the excitement of the story and mysteries.

A public television network, France Television is the leading financier of animation programs in France. They are currently co-producing fourteen animation series, representing 116 hours of programming. France 2 targets 12-18 year olds, while France 3 targets the 4-10 age group. France Television centers its children's programming around two artistic lines: impertinent humor with series such as Baskerville: une famille d'enfer, Momie au pair and Norman Normal; and action and adventure, colored with French and European cultural inheritance, illustrated by Belphégor, Corto Maltese and Lucky Luke, among others. Les Armateurs, Belphégor's executive producer, is a French production company founded in 1994 by Didier Brunner. Among others, Les Armateurs co-produced Michel Ocelot's famed Kirikou And The Sorceress. They are currently working on Michel Ocelot's Princes & Princesses, as well as Sylvain Chomet's Les Triplettes de Belleville, an animated feature based on characters from Chomet's award-winning short The Old Lady and the Pigeons.

Belphégor, the phantom that haunts Paris. © Les Armateurs/ France 2/France 3/ Tooncan.

Creator Gérald Dupeyrot agreed to share his thoughts on his work:

Annick Teninge: How did you get the idea to bring back this mythic television series? Were you worried it would not be equal to your memories, and the viewers' memories, even if this concern was irrelevant for today's generation?

Gérald Dupeyrot: To begin with, it was purely commercial. The production company was looking for an idea for a TV series. First, they considered Fantomas but the rights were not available. Then, Belphégor became an option. I pitched the idea to Pathé, the rights holders, and Arthur Bernède's heirs. They accepted it. However, for moral reasons, it was out of the question that Belphégor would kill, or even be a thief. We were told that no distributor would go for that. Even a project with "Robin Hood" in the title had discouraged investors, not to mention a thief! Plus, the C.S.A. (Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel) [French Audiovisual Council, a regulation authority] had recently frowned on several projects with bad heroes and we needed to be very careful with the story line. And it was out of the question to follow the book, because it ends with Belphégor's death. The rights holders also imposed other constraints, such as never revealing Belphégor's identity. We had to be daring, but in a different way. This is why I made Belphégor what it is.


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