“La Peste” by Albert Camus becomes a 4-episode series broadcast on France 2 on March 4 and 11, 2024. We asked screenwriter Gilles Taurand about the choices for this modern adaptation. Interview.

The work of adapting a literary work to the screen is rarely easy. You have to make cuts, make sacrifices, while keeping in mind the spirit of the original creation. And sometimes, you shouldn’t hesitate to make big changes so that the heart of the author’s message resonates more vibrantly on screen. This is what the writers of La Peste, a resolutely modern adaptation of Albert Camus’ novel, did in the 4-episode series broadcast on France 2 on March 4 and 11, 2024.

In this 4-hour mini-series, the plot takes place in the south of France, in 2030. A new variant of the plague bacillus appears, while society is governed by hypersurveillance and institutions Local politicians ignore medical alerts because of their electoral agendas. Transposing Camus’ novel proves to be an effective choice, as Gilles Taurand, one of the two screenwriters who wrote this new adaptation of The Plague (with Georges-Marc Benamou), explains in an interview.

You choose to adapt Camus’ story to our time, and not in 1940 as in the book. Why? Gilles Taurand (screenwriter): What guided this choice of adaptation is what we can discover at the end of Camus’s story, when he says through his central character, Doctor Rieux , that the plague never disappears. Beyond the epidemic itself, which effectively disappears, it is the allegory of the “plague”, Nazism and all forms of totalitarianism, which never disappears. The reading that we can make of totalitarianism when the book appeared in 1947 and the one we can make today is not quite the same. Today, the rise of extremism and totalitarianism means that I consider The Plague to be extremely topical. There was not the slightest hesitation to adapt this story to our times. Especially since we were encouraged in this direction by Albert Camus’ daughter, Catherine Camus, to whom we had explained that we were indeed going to develop the allegorical aspect and the dystopia. She thought it in no way betrayed the spirit of the book.

At no time was the question of adapting The Plague stricto sensu, by having the action take place in Oran in 1940, raised?

No, and then it would have been, I think, unthinkable and impossible to film The Plague in Oran in the 1940s for entirely practical reasons. But beyond that, the world we are talking about is a somewhat Orwellian world of surveillance, of remote surveillance, of a totalitarian central government regime, it is a world which is not very far from what we can see today what we saw in China in Shanghai when 25 million Chinese were imprisoned in a certain way [confined in April 2022 because of Covid, Editor’s note]. There are resonances which mean that the choice of the years 2030-2040 was not at all arbitrary. Quite the contrary.

In the plot, the protagonists have already experienced the coronavirus pandemic before suffering the plague epidemic. How did the coronavirus impact the storyline?

It was still very close. It’s true that there was a surge of anxiety which characterized a strange time when we were still totally infantilized. All its echoes are encouragement to take up Camus’ book again. And we didn’t hesitate for long, which wasn’t so easy because we still had to fight to obtain the rights, because I believe that many people were suddenly interested in this novel which had become very current: the fear of foreigners, the fact of naming a culprit, during Covid, anti-Asian racism… It is a perfectly contemporary book. Moreover, sales of La Peste exploded during Covid. One of the themes of this story is nevertheless the question of imprisonment: when the characters of the novel are caught in the trap and unable to leave the city and the question of time and duration arises. What do we do when we are trapped by an epidemic and, in a way, by ourselves? The scourge reveals everyone to themselves, and that was something I was passionate about. We did it after Covid, which was not easy. Writing La Peste took a long time for Camus, but writing the series took a long time for us too (laughs).

What was the objective of the series? Take a booster shot, remind yourself that history repeats itself?

Yes, a booster shot I find that very good. There is a Camus specialist, Marylin Maeso, who said that if we had to define Camus’s humanism, we would say that it is a humanism of vigilance. You have to constantly keep your eyes open. Not saying “never again,” but constantly being lookouts. And it is still characteristic of Camus who, throughout his life, showed it in an exemplary way: he was a resistance fighter, he lived 4 years in hiding during the war, he experienced the Occupation, he campaigned for the newspaper Combat… It’s a real example. Not only is it a fascinating fiction, but there is also a moral, political and philosophical dimension in the text which is a source of reflection.

In the series, there is also a strong aspect about mass surveillance and police and institutional violence…Yes, both. There is an Orwellian world, the famous “Big Brother is watching you”. In China it is obvious with biometric registration: at any time we can know where people are, what they are doing, and what’s more, give them a sort of label of good or bad citizen. Well, thank goodness we are protected thanks to the CNIL! But at the same time, there are more and more remote surveillance cameras. Security anxiety allows us to accept the fact that we are most often under surveillance. Then there is the state of emergency that we experienced at the time of terrorism… But striking the balance between the necessary protection and the freedom of each citizen is a very complicated thing, hence the importance of vigilance as in The Plague, to be a lookout, to be on the alert. This is what we should all be moving towards. And that’s how the novel and the series ends.

What do you think the “plague” is today? The “plague” today is the totalitarian plague, the fact that democracies around the world are under threat. Moreover, the fear of the arrival of Donald Trump only increases generalized anxiety. Let’s not forget that Trump declared not long ago that illegal immigrants were “destroying the blood of America” ​​[on December 19, 2023, during a meeting in IOWA, Editor’s note]. You realize ? We are right on the subject of The Plague.

La Peste is broadcast on the TV program on France 2 on March 4 and 11, 2024 at 9:10 p.m., and in streaming replay on the free france.tv platform.