Wednesday, February 24

Marat, Robespierre and Descartes, “cold cases” of legal medicine, on France 5


Access a paper soiled with the blood of Jean-Paul Marat, doctor and revolutionary journalist killed on July 13, 1793 in Paris in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday; scratch, using a cotton swab, a groove in the desk of the lawyer and politician Maximilien Robespierre, guillotined on July 28, 1794 at the Place de la Révolution… Surfing on television’s interest in forensic medicine – see successful series Balthazar, on TF1, or Alexandra Ehle, on France 3 -, the forensic pathologist and paleopathologist Philippe Charlier also proposes to investigate the dead, but adding a side cold case (“Case closed”) since it is interested in real historical figures. With more restraint than his fictitious colleagues, but nonetheless with good humor.

We would even dare to speak of gluttony, if the first two subjects of study, Marat and Robespierre, were not suffering from unpleasant skin diseases shown in close-up on the screen. In an attempt to reconstruct their medical file, Philippe Charlier uses cutting-edge techniques in DNA research, toxicology and radiology. And solicits historians such as Serge Bianchi, Olivier Coquard and Emmanuelle Heran, chief curator at the Louvre.

The truthfulness of the quest compensates for the lack of spectacular

First find the bodies. Or rather the bones, even death masks. With various successes, the scenario alternately follows the two tracks and takes the viewer on a pleasant walk, essentially Parisian, from the BNF to the Pantheon, passing through the 11,000 m² of catacombs and the oldest art molding workshop in France. , at Lorenzi.

Then, the exhibits: Marat’s bathtub and Robespierre’s work table provide an opportunity to visit the restaurant Le Procope, in the 6e district of Paris. Even if, on the investigation side, there are many dead ends, the truthful aspect of the quest compensates for the lack of spectacular.

“Very small skull”

The section devoted to Descartes is the most fascinating of this documentary miniseries. Perhaps because he relies on the tangible, like his skull, whose incredible history is traced here, from Stockholm, where the French philosopher died, on February 11, 1650, to the Museum of Man, in Paris, where we find the “Very small skull of the great Descartes”, engraved by its successive “owners”. In the laboratory, the 3D rendering of his brain reveals an anomaly. And now we get excited about “Brodmann area 45”, named after an area of ​​the cerebral cortex …

At the same time, the other bones of the founder of rationalism have their own surprising and fragmented history – a finger stolen here, a “relic” sold there. So much so that when, in 1666, Louis XIV asked for his repatriation, an 80 cm box arrived in France… But then, where are his “remains”? Philippe Charlier obtained permission to dig the chapel of Saint-Germain-des-Prés to continue the investigation.

Marat, Robespierre, the sick of the Revolution followed by Descartes, autopsy of a genius, documentaries by Philippe Charlier and Dominique Adt (Fr., 2021, 2 x 52 min).

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