A Look at the French Riviera's Mafia on Screen

The mafia have been depicted on screen across the French Riviera | © Pexels/pixabay
The mafia have been depicted on screen across the French Riviera | © Pexels/pixabay
Photo of Alex Ledsom
31 January 2017

When we think of the mafia, most people think of Italy and of movies like The Godfather and Goodfellas. However, the French Riviera has also had a long association with the mafia and has been portrayed a lot on screen. Here’s a run-down of the most iconic portrayals of the French mafia on screen on the Riviera.

The French Connection (1971)

The starting point for any links to the French Riviera has to be The French Connection from 1971 with Gene Hackman and Roy Schieder playing policemen who are trying to bring down a French drug dealer.

The 1971 movie The French Connection refers to the traffic of Heroin through Marseille by the mafia | © Twentieth Century Fox

“The French Connection” is the real-life trafficking route of heroin by the Corsican mafia through Turkey to France and then into the US via Canada. The scheme came to the attention of the American Drug Enforcement Agencies in the 50s and 60s and became a major focus.

Most of the action takes place in NY, including what is widely considered as one of the best car chase scenes ever, but shots were taken in Marseille, notably at the Chateau D’If. It was the first R-rated movie to win Best Picture at the Oscars and won Hackman an Oscar for Best Actor. In 1998 and again in 2007, the American Film Institute listed it as one of the best American films ever made and of “great cultural significance”.

A real-life seizure of drugs that passed through "The French Connection" and was foiled | © US government/WikiCommons

The Connection (“La French”) 2014

La French (The Connection in English) was a portrayal of a 1970s French mafia drugs ring | © Gaumont

The Connection (or “La French” in French) is the 2014 French film on the same idea – a local magistrate spends years trying to bring down a drugs ring operating in the south of France. The mafia are bringing heroin into Marseille from Turkey and it’s DuJardin’s turn to bring them down.

It premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 to widely positive reviews.

Jean DuJardin tries to bring down a mafia-controlled drugs ring in the south of France | © Jean Dujardin by Studio Harcourt/WikiCommons

Marseille (TV series)

Marseille is really the star of Netflix's first French language original production | © Netflix

Netflix spent millions on their first French language original series, Marseille, which tells the story of the mayor of Marseille (Gérard Depardieu) who is fighting for re-election against his protegé (Benoît Magimel) and the drug gangs of Marseille.

It is the mafia that controls everything in this series, paying off everyone and buying votes.

However big the stars though, it’s really the city of Marseille that shines. Long sweeping views of the city, car chases along the coast, sex scenes (there are a lot of them!) in every beautiful location imaginable; it’s all here in this eight-part series.

It opened to mixed reviews, but Netflix has recommissioned series two, which will be available for streaming next year.

Anthony Zimmer (2005)

Anthony Zimmer uses Nice's Negresco Hotel as a major star in its movie | © Alter Films/Canal +

Anthony Zimmer is set in Nice and follows the hunt for an international money launderer whom the mafia are after, as well as the police.

It’s an enjoyable romantic adventure, starring Sophie Marceau and Yvan Attal.

It has all the amazing southern French scenes – the coastal roads, the sea views and the wonderful hotels, most notably the Negresco on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.

22 Bullets (2010)

Set against the monumental coastline of Marseille, this revenge story features one of France’s most successful exports, Jean Reno. He’s a retired mobster, left for dead in a Marseille car park, who seeks revenge against the culprits. If you loved The Transporter and Taken, 22 Bullets is for you. The tagline is “le sang versé ne sèche jamais” (spilt blood doesn’t dry).

Marseille's coastline looms large in this mobster revenge story 22 Bullets | © Europacorp/TF1 Films

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