Balanga’s new documentary series, Dolores: in the name of the sister, offers definitive proof that reality is more often than not far more terrifying than any fiction. The four-part series traces the makings of a killer, Jean Baptiste Rambla, exploring the impact that witnessing his own sister’s abduction had on his psyche and asking the burning question: did what he saw turn him into a cold-blooded murderer? Géraldine Levasseur, producer with Giraf Production, and Christophe Bochnacki, distributor with Balanga, discuss the project’s uniqueness and international appeal.
Did a killing create a killer?
Unifrance: Dolores: in the name of the sister is a true story… why did you choose to bring this French news story from the 1970s to the screen?
Géraldine Levasseur, producer with Giraf Production: Because it’s incredible! Most people can remember Christian Ranucci. But few remember the name Marie Dolorès Rambla, the little girl he abducted and murdered in 1974, crimes for which Ranucci was tried and executed. It is striking the extent to which we forget the victims. In this case, the main focus is Jean Baptiste, Marie Dolorès’ little brother, who was the only witness to an abduction which attracted very little attention at the time. Questioned by the police and interviewed by journalists as if he were an adult when he was only six years old at the time, Jean Baptiste became a second victim of this crime. As an adult, he became a killer, a terrifying and monstrous man. Our aim is not to make excuses for his acts – the women he murdered – but to understand Jean Baptiste Rambla’s journey: would he have turned into a killer had his sister never been abducted? The story was brought to a conclusion in December 2020, when Jean Baptiste Rambla was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Unifrance: Why did you choose a 4 x 52’ format for a documentary series?
Géraldine Levasseur: This case started in 1974 when Christian Ranucci turned himself in to the police in Marseilles and confessed to the murder of Marie Dolorès. It is simply astonishing that, 30 years later, Marie Dolorès’ brother made the same journey to the same police station to confess to murdering a woman. The brother of a victim who becomes a killer, that’s a unique story in legal history. The subject is rich and full of twists and turns. Four episodes of 52′ seemed a minimum – we could have gone beyond that as this case is also a societal subject. It traces 46 years of legal, judicial, political and social history. Within the story of the abduction of the Marie Dolorès Rambla, there is also the question of the abolition of the death penalty.
Unifrance: Why did you choose to present this series on the international market?
Christophe Bochnacki: This mini-series contains all the ingredients necessary to captivate an international audience. The story is unbelievable and takes place across almost half a century. The narration has all the hallmarks of drama: cliffhangers, twists, multiple episodes plot. The director and the DOP both have backgrounds in cinema. Finally, the series draws on rare archive footage, strong witness statements from people involved in the case, and drama sequences (on average about 15 min per episode).
Unifrance: How do you explain the success of French news stories on the international market?
Christophe Bochnacki: True crime is an universal genre, whether they take place in France, the USA or elsewhere. International audiences are fascinated by murderers. Those stories are just incredible, and real life can be stranger than fiction. With the success of these kinds of series on platforms, the genre has reached wider and new audiences. It has gained in prestige thanks to storytelling inspired by drama screenwriting, along with cinematic direction, and often uncredible archive footage. Dolores: in the name of the sister is a perfect example of this.
Unifrance: You just took part in MIPCOM with UniFrance, and you presented Dolorès during I love French docs. What feedback have you had from that first showing?
Christophe Bochnacki: The feedback has been very enthusiastic. I even heard applause after the presentation of the teaser at the UniFrance pitch “I love French stories”. We have been approached by several broadcasters in Germany, Spain and Scandinavia, as well as an US platform.