Sarkozy. Now at the movies. Not in The West Wing, at Cannes.
If you are a sucker for political sagas brought into movies you are going to love the latest ‘fiction’ to be screened at the Cannes Festival later this year.
French president Nicolas Sarkozy is now the subject of La Conquête (The Conquest). It follows his ambitious rise to power from his appointment as Interior Minister by Chirac in April 2002 to May 2007 when he conquered his ultimate prize: the presidency of France (His other conquest, Carla Bruni, came months later).
Few extracts have leaked so far but the movie is already the talk of the town. It is likely to be a deserved success for two reasons.
Firstly, whilst the French love political caricature, it is contained to newspaper cartoons, to the regular TV segment like Les Guignols (‘the spitting images’) and to TV documentaries. Proper political ‘feature movies’ – a genre relatively popular in the US, the UK or Australia as attested by W, The Queen, or Hawke – is oddly missing in action from the Gallic entertainment industry. Especially if the politicians are still alive.
The reason comes from a perversion of the funding system which is ironically supposed to uphold the so-called French ‘cultural exception’.
Public funding has a key role in the Arts through cash advance facilities. Media regulation makes it mandatory for most TV stations to invest in French-made movies. But they are so tightly connected to the Government that any controversial scenario that might undermine personal business and political careers is rejected or self-censored.
The difficulties reported by the producers of La Conquête to start their project are quite telling. Potential sponsors saw the project as a “patate chaude” (“hot potatoe”). The type of stuff many people secretly find interesting but cannot be bothered touching. They immediately contemplate the series of hurdles associated with such an enterprise and prefer to pass to the next guy in line.
While the producers had no illusions about the commercial channels mainly supportive of Sarkozy’s conservative party, they were hoping for the public broadcaster’s support, similar to what the BBC does in the UK. Alas, France Television’s initial interest vanished in an unexplained manner.
They finally managed to assemble private funding and started filming while keeping a relatively low profile to avoid issues, and probably to also build audience expectation.
The other reason why the movie is likely to get a deserved success is the way it has managed to pick the mood, mannerisms and tone of the characters involved in Sarkozy’s life. From the few extracts available online it looks hilarious to anyone following French politics.
The authors say they wanted to emulate the “ultra-realist and factual” style that they see in the Anglo-Saxon or Italian movie industry, referring to Nanni Moretti’s Caiman (on Berlusconi) or Stephen Frears’ Queen. Their aim was to do a movie about politics, not a political movie.
Your correspondent co-bloggers hope that audiences will show a ‘WestWing effect’ and reward the courageous investors by ensuring that La Conquête does not turn into a Pyrrhic victory and lost funds.
The risk is that the pro- Sarkozy will boycott the movie because they seem to find the poster offensive; and that the anti- Sarko already saturated by his media exposure will skip it too. Time will tell.
In the meantime, check for yourself. Compare the Teaser….
… with a real CBS interview. Spooky Hey?