The plot is very similar to the Brazilian novel "Incidente em Antares" (Incident in Antares) by Erico Verissimo, which was published in 1971. A mini-series based on the book, Antares Incident (1994), was released in Brazil in 1994. See more »
Four and a half thousand years ago, the Sumerian civilization existed in the land we now call Iraq. In a surviving work of their literature, deciphered from a baked clay tablet, we learn that their goddess of love, named Inanna (who was called Ishtar by the later Babylonians), threatened to go down to the Underworld and smash the doors, saying: 'And all the dead will get out, and they will outnumber the living.' This ancient fear of our species, explicitly documented circa 2500 BC but really extending throughout the entire history of mankind, is explored in this strange and eerie French film, which has now inspired a popular French television series of the same original title and theme. This film is entitled in French LES REVENANTS, which means THE RETURNED, and that is the title used now on the DVD release with English subtitles, though the cinema release with subtitles a few years ago was as THEY CAME BACK, a title which has now been abandoned, so that the continuity may be clear to purchasers that this is the basis of the TV series, which is making a hit. Essentially, this is a film about zombies, but it is not at all a horror film, and none of them stagger around making gormless noises and bashing people. Nor are they comical, in the hysterically funny mode of SHAUN OF THE DEAD with Simon Pegg (2004, see my review), which by strange coincidence came out in the same year as this film, for this film portrays zombies very seriously and thoughtfully, and is as far from being a comedy as you can get. The study of the 'returned dead' is extremely sophisticated. One day, without explanation, large numbers of recently dead people are seen walking from the cemetery back into a provincial French town. They are all physically fit but rather dazed and uncommunicative. In this town alone, 13,000 of them suddenly appear, having left their graves. They are not at all threatening, but are quiet and reserved and, somewhat ominously, all seem to have an understanding with one another. We are told that millions of 'returned dead' have appeared all over France, and some satire creeps into the film here, because meetings are held in which various politically correct people insist that the human rights of these dead people must be respected, they must all have their old jobs back, and their pensions must be reinstated. Most of them are elderly, but there are a few younger ones and children. Extensive bureaucracy then grinds into slow motion, as the returnees are identified and kept in a compound, sleeping on bunks before being reunited with their families. But then it is noticed that they are not sleeping, but merely pretending to sleep. It is also noticed that their body temperatures are all five degrees lower than normal. They are hyper-active and begin to have secret meetings at night while 'living humans' are asleep. They become increasingly restless and seem continually to want to flee, but it is not clear to where they wish to flee. They have mostly lost their memories, which come back to them slowly, although they are perfectly capable of speaking fluently when they need to, and of carrying out any daily tasks. They remember where they used to live and recognise their family members. But they appear to be incapable of relating to any living person emotionally, or having any feelings. Hence, there are no tearful reunions and desperate huggings. They are distant, and the living humans are made very uncomfortable by their presence, so that many people refuse to see the returned dead whom they had once loved. This is a very strange film indeed, very much under-stated, and hence all the more effective for that reason. This wonderfully evocative and mysterious film was the first film directed by Robin Campillo, and it was an impressive debut, done with great skill. He has just completed his second film, EASTERN BOYS (2013), which is apparently not yet released. Campillo also wrote this film, jointly with Brigitte Tijou. It is no wonder that this provocative and disturbing examination of one of our deepest fears has inspired a television series, for it is easy to think of endless episodes in which further and further layers of mystery are peeled away from this nearly inexhaustible subject. After all, the subject of zombies is never really dead, even though they themselves are.
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