REVIEW / REVIEW SERIES – In “The Serpent” Tahar Rahim takes on the role of Charles Sobhraj, a crook and killer who allegedly raged in Asia in the 1970s. A mini-series to discover on Netflix.
The killer Charles Sobhraj at the center of the series The snake
Yes the criminals have always fascinated, it can be tricky to process them on screen, especially when they are not fictional. Indeed, the risk is to make a character too attractive in the eyes of the public who would almost forget the horror of the crimes and its victims. This was recently the case for the fictional series You, which features a psychopath. Part of the public has totally concealed their madness in order to idealize it and make it an object of desire. The interpreter Penn Badgley then had to reframe fans and explain that there is nothing romantic about his character. In the case of the series The snake, produced by the BBC and available in France on Netflix, Tahar Rahim plays Charles Sobhraj (known as “The Serpent”), a killer who would have raged in the 1970s in Asia under different identities (our interview here). If the program is inspired by real events, the dialogues were imagined.
The French actor fits perfectly into his skin, as evidenced by the first sequence. We discover the man at the end of the 1990s during an interview with a journalist. The latter asks him if he has “escaped justice“, and Sobhraj remains silent. A chilling entry, which immediately intrigues for the sequel. Because if the facts are known, how could he get out of it?
Once our interest is captured, The snake finds a certain rightness precisely to avoid falling into a romantic approach to Sobhraj. However, we cannot deny that this one gives off an aura which allows him, at first, to bring Quebecer Marie-Andrée Leclerc into his life and to make her his accomplice. The strength of the series is then toalternate between the fascinating portrait of the man and an investigation.
Judicious treatment of victims
For this, the series plays with temporality. Each episode shows at least two periods in parallel. So, while we follow the investigation led by Herman Knippenberg, a Dutch diplomat from the Dutch embassy in Bangkok, the series goes back 2 months, 6 months or even 2 years to show how the misdeeds happened. Above all, many passages focus on the victims, taking the time to introduce them before their encounter with Sobhraj, thus making it possible to humanize them, and to render the acts of their murderer more intolerable.
This is the case from episode 2. Until then, the series may seem to make questionable staging choices by adopting a style that is sometimes “romantic”. We think of the use of music by Gainsbourg or Dutronc, almost too pleasing to the ears in such a context. But these elements are used precisely to strengthen the contrast. Once the victim is identified, and the spectator has had time to navigate with her, the trap that begins to close on her becomes suffocating, reaching a paroxysm of horror. A use of the music thus relevant and reproduced at the end of the episode with this time the voice of Aznavour which struggles to cover cries.
A portrait that avoids false notes
The snake thus gains in intensity and interest over the episodes. The many secondary characters that surround Sobhraj allow the series to observe him from different angles. But it’s good Knippenberg’s investigation which remains the most fascinating element. On the one hand, because the series points inaction by authorities and embassies. And on the other hand, because each new element discovered makes it possible to better understand who Sobhraj is. Unlike serial killers with a murderous impulse, Charles Sobhraj is above all a crook. He seduces his victims, is first friendly and helpful before robbing them. And this, with the complicity of his partner, Marie-Andrée, and Ajay Chowdhury, his handyman.
Although he is often justified by evoking the racism of which he may have been a victim all his life (born of a Vietnamese mother and an Indian father, his interbreeding poses a problem in France), he turns out to be above all a great manipulator and liar, refusing any questioning. The snake thus manages to increase the hatred and fear of the public towards him, without the interest in the series weakening.
Once again, to embody it, Tahar Rahim is doing a remarkable job there. At his side, despite an unreliable Quebec accent, the English actress Jenna Coleman is doing it with honors. We will also note the presence of Mathilde Warnier (Nadine …