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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I will be straight. I find this feature absolutely exquisite. I have
never seen a film like this before, about a president still in action
with so much resemblance between the characters and the actual people.
Everything is very close to the reality here: faces, talking, manners,
every thing. We can watch here the greedy, ambitious, ruthless means
Sarkozy uses to succeed in power. He is very well described in this
movie, of which we already know the ending. Still now. But no one can
predict how the future, in 2012, will be like for the midget president.
It's not a masterpiece, just watch it as entertainment. You won't see another film like this before a long time. But I hope to be wrong.
A real must.
The other reviewer spoke about how good the imitators are here, and
it's true. The actors who play the parts of Chirac, de Villepin, and a
few of the other roles, look a great deal like their real-life
counterparts. But that wasn't what most interested me in this very
entertaining movie. This is really a no-holds-barred presentation of
Sarkozy as a monomaniacal, power-hungry little despot. I couldn't
imagine such a film being made about a sitting president here in the
US. Even Michael Moore's depiction of Bush during the 9/11 disaster,
while it ridicules him, comes nowhere close to this sort of thing. Nor
does Frost/Nixon, which of course was filmed long after Nixon left
Where fact stopped and fiction/imagination begins I didn't always know. But this is one very devastating movie, all the more so because Denis Podalydes does not settle for some sort of caricature, which, given Sarkozy's personal ticks, would have been easy. He gives a very developed, well-rounded presentation of a rather frightening, and not really funny, individual - who could learn a lot about himself by watching this movie.
This is "The Conquest" in a nutshell, a film that takes an ironic twist
on the good old "Behind every great man, there is a woman". And to
those who still doubt the evidence, just take a look at the actual
crisis that undermined the new President's image as a 'regular guy':
everything went well for François Hollande until his partner sent a
message against his ex-wife, and many detractors commented that a man
who couldn't hold his woman couldn't hold France. Ironically, the same
sentence is spoken during the film, by Dominique De Villepin, probably
Sarkozy's most virulent rival from the same board.
Xavier Durringer's "The Conquest", if not revealing something revolutionary about politics' cruelty and nastiness, highlights the way the political arena was perverted by the fourth power. The media are accomplice of a system that valued presentation more than anything. where it's more about representation. The film is told in flashback, chronicling Sarkozy's rise to power from 2002 (Chirac's second election) to 2007 and is punctuated by brief shots of Sarkozy desperately trying to join his wife Cecilia. People don't elect ideas, measures, but men, representations, symbols and Sarkozy has so many flaws that he can't afford appearing as a man who's not loved by a woman, and only his control on some influential media prevent some embarrassing news from being rapidly spread.
Now, to those who asked, why such a film? And why in 2011, as if it would serve Sarkozy for the 2012 election campaign (if one thing, I'd think the opposite), I want to reply: "why not"?" Is it or is it not that the man was probably the least likely candidate to be even considered a president in 2002? The man who was infamous for having betrayed his all-time mentor Jacques Chirac in 1995 in favor of Edouard Balladur, the mayor of Neuilly, one of the richest quarters in the Parisian area. Chirac who was not a political saint either- kept very hard feelings towards those who betrayed him, but nothing in the same intensity than for Sarkozy, and this shows quite well in the film. And Sarkozy not only cumulated many flaws, but there was something obviously opportunistic and untruthful in his behavior, and of course, his diminutive size didn't help.
"The Conquest" doesn't require such knowledge about Sarkozy's past of course, but it helps to set the tone of the film: here we deal with a politician who doesn't hide his ambition, who's the most resented of all and the perfect target for politicians' belittling comments, physically and morally. Yet his political brilliance and intelligence made him a necessary actor in the political field. Chirac must deal with him, and given this parameter, Sarkozy has to use all his power, all his intelligence to become the new President in 2007. Why a film about his ascension? Simply, because it works on a cinematic level, whether we like him or not, or know him or not, there's something appealing in the way this man does everything to accomplish his goal, while his opponents try to dwarf him or minimize his merits, they obviously failed but ironically, Sarkozy's victory doesn't feel as a complete one either.
I have my theory about it, Sarkozy is a man who enjoyed the idea of victory to prove himself he was capable to overcome all the adversity that poisoned his political career, even his life. But there's something missing at the end, he can't savor it with his wife, his pride is hurt. In a way, he still characterizes the "behind a great man" notion, because even in her absence, Cecilia was reminding him of his unfulfilled challenge. And ironically, it's the struggle to keep her, to win her heart back, that made the rest much easier. Despite all the attempts from Chirac, Villepin, the Opposition, Sarkozy swept them off with a political virtuosity, because the hardship was elsewhere. He embodies the idea of what "didn't kill you makes you stronger" where what made him stronger was not political.
But there's more in Sarkozy than a simple 'Napoleon Syndrome', (although some comedic parts highlight this), it's the chronicle of a man who acts for success, against the idea of losing, as he told Villepin, it's in his guts, he can't help it, and you can see that even his rival is convinced, that even Chirac admires him and he's reluctant to deal with him not because he hates him, but because the very idea of admiring him is more hateful to him. There's something light but generous in meanings in Xavier Durringer's film, it's very matter of fact film, it avoids many useless details and focuses on one central character and it's enough to entertain. Of course, it was victim of political interpretations in France, as if the film was a sort of publicity for Sarkozy's political campaign but now that the fever is off, I predict a cult-popularity to this little gem of biographical comedy drama. By the way, kudos to Denys Polyades in his perfect interpretation, and to Bernard LeCoq as his delightful impersonation of Jacques Chirac (although a bit over the top sometimes).
And besides the remarkable and very fun spot-that-politician cast, there's one element in "The Conquest" that I'm sure- will not get unnoticed by some movie fans: the music. When I heard the score, I immediately thought of Fellini's films and their circus-like world. And "The Conquest" plunges us in the media's circus with the journalists as the ringmasters and Sarkozy embodying all the roles. Indeed, he's everything in the film, he carefully walks on the tightrope of his popularity polls, against Chirac and Villepin, he's a lion tamer in the right-wing party, he's the flamethrower who ignited the suburbs riots of course, he can even become a clown but aren't all those politicians , after all?
The Conquest has exceptional acting, a brutally honest script, no attempt to sweeten a power-monger from what he/she is. An top-notch case study in what the ultimate "Type A" personalities (presidential candidates) are like, Durringer succeeds with The Conquest where Stone failed with Nixon and W by over-sentimentalizing the ruthless, power-hungry nature of their subjects by emphasizing an altruism that's not really there. The fact that its subject matter may not be immediately familiar shouldn't deter you from watching the movie, as the characters are well-acted enough you'll be entertained anyway. Will you sympathize with Podalydes' version of Sarkozy? At times, as his character isn't a clear-cut hero or villain but a number of shades of gray in this docudrama-like approach that is much different than Brolin's version of W. The Conquest is the best political drama I've seen in years. I wish that it went on to cover Sarkozy's courtship of Carla Bruni, but I suppose that could make a good sequel.
A president's rise to power. But I don't think it is very typical for Sarkozy. These are the motions for all political flyer's. (Obama is probably the same kind of bitch when the lights and cameras are off) Therefore it is very easy to ridicule especially Sarkozy. And besides bringing us actors who look like and act like factual persons we never know whether the dialogs is truthful or whether all actions really took place. That makes this film an easy way out for all parties: makers and viewers. But it also provides us with a film that is no drama. It is all puppet play. Having said that, the acting is good and the film is funny at times. With some nice camera-work, especially during the big election events.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The political life of Nicolas Sarkozy is the basis of "The Conquest", a
fictional work that examines the events in his life, before and after
becoming France's president. There is a disclaimer as the film opens in
which a warning informs the viewer this clearly an attempt to tell the
story, not exactly what happened in real life.
Nicolas Sarkozy, an ambitious man, was tapped by Jacques Chirac to be his Interior minister. At the time, M. Chirac had no intention of running again. He nurtured Nicolas, whom he found to be an astute politician with charisma and chutzpah, enough to capture the voting public's imagination. Sarkozy had a formidable opponent in Dominic Villepin, who had ambitions of his own. The story deals with the intrigues and obstacles surrounding these professional politicians.
The story also zeroes in Nicolas relation with his then wife, Cecilia, an intelligent woman who besides being Mrs. Sarkozy, was his adviser. It becomes imminent the deteriorating relationship between Nicolas and Cecilia. They eventually divorced. The political animal Nicolas Sarkozy was, lost much more than Cecilia in the process.
Xavier Durringer directs "The Conquest" more as a farce than a real portrayal of the man. There are glimpses throughout the story of his power and prominence in the French political life, but ultimately, the film feels empty as it tries to entertain rather than examine in depth the issues that brought M. Sarkozy to power.
The director achieves a coup in the casting of the main roles. Denis Podalydes reminds us of Nicolas Sarkozy's posture doing an excellent impersonation of the subject of the picture. Bernard LeCoq is perfect as Jacques Chirac, the powerful figure in French political life. Samuel Labarthe bears an uncanny resemblance to Dominic Villepin and Florence Pernel does wonders as Cecilia.
The premise - not of the film itself, but let's say what surrounds it,
its instance as it came to be - is interesting, namely, the depiction
of a nation's President in his/her rise to power and while he/she still
is in power; what titillates in such a premise is I think the promise
that we truly live in democratic times and that means times that can
pull off the apparition of such a film sincerely, exposing the
machinations and the weaknesses of a leader, as some kind of
demonstration in the making that turns spectacle into some kind of
self-witnessing democracy in the making.
May I never write that sentence again.
What is so wrong with it? It suffers from plausibility of the politically correct kind, of a stupid, biased kind. Just take some steps back and reconsider the film you saw: would you really think having seen it that the film is a demonstration, or a proof that we live in democratic times?
Let's begin from the soundtrack that snaps right away: the references to Rota ground the film in Fellini territory, and so by cultural allusion we wonder if this wouldn't be more properly employed in Berlusconi's case - or is it that Berlusconi is in a way the future of - European at least - leadership, and so Sarkozy's vulgarity is a peripheral phenomenon to the standard shamelessness of Berlusconi as stand-in for the Rota/Fellini circus?
But even this doubly misfires, I am afraid; I think to have a film critical of a head of state while still in power - truly, politically critical - could be the name of utopia itself, and doubly so: that means on the one hand practically it would never purely be so for at least at some point it would have to invent and so enter the ideological imagination of the script-writer (when Mrs. Almost-Ex-Sarkozy gratuitously cried towards the end I wished I had never entered the mind of this particular script-writer), or, in order to remember early 20th century propaganda frames, such a film would be a redundancy.
Yet we live in biased more than propaganda times: do we need radio and press and media exposition - if we have followed the political climate and state in France during the time - turned into a semi-fictionalized account? Does this not mistake, and it is a major mistake, information for political stance, which is another name for politicizing melodrama? But maybe we are still in a frame of mind not far from the one Jean Baudrillard exposed back in the 90's when Cicciolina (remember?) was elected in the Italian Parliament: it was literally for laughs, as a face-off of politics into female impersonation.
For what we have in the film are impersonators, and not actors. Perhaps there is a charm to it, watch your favorite buffoons played by some impersonators with the occasional poignant truism in their mouths here and there. But I do not want my genuine buffoon Sarkozy played - sorry, impersonated by another buffoon and spoil my male-bonding fun: and this is the crux of the matter for me: instead of just plainly turning a misconception into maybe a bad film, more importantly it turns a misconception into bad democracy anchored into macho innuendo.
I admit it was a bit harder for me to digest, since the spice added to my watching experience was the remembrance of watching Podalydes as Jean-Paul Sartre some years back in a french miniseries: he was truly bad, of the same brand of badness as here, that is over-reacting the body language and confounding the demarcation between it and bodily tics, as if attacking the whole thing totally from outside, and offering us the ludicrous ruin of a theatrical alphabet; think of Louis de Funes instead as what a truly ingenious confusion of the above categories would mean each time he exploded bodily coordinates, unless one conceives Podalydes' over-reacting as the allegory of the unhappy Left: the invasion of the body snatchers into the liberal body that mistakes bodily tics for politics!
Do not think of these asides irrelevant to the film - that is its ideology: they make all the more palpable the lack of political and aesthetic, cinematic decisions: to put it bluntly, if this film has some kind of political novelty - and is not as I believe something re-appropriated if not shamelessly pushed around by the liberal consensus - then it has to be supplemented by a film surrounding the rise to life of the Bruni-Sarkozy child, since it is the first time a President becomes father while in office! That would give us the glimpse to the hotness of the first lady we have so shamelessly and programmatically been declined: imagine Podalydes in seizure as he takes a baby from Laetitia Casta's bosom.
May we never have to see such a film.
I expected this movie to be fun, mostly because of the subject and i
admit this kept me watching until the end. I didn't expect a comedy but
I did expect a few laughs since Sarkozy does have a way of making you
smile just by his appearance. Alas there is not one smile worthy scene
in this movie.
Other similar movies describing known outcome political events know how to provide just the touch of reality but then provide a good acted story that can be clearly fictional but interesting. This film goes the other way. It's all about looks, it looks real, political figures look and sound familiar but it seems like the whole plot has been written from press cutouts from LeFigaro et Libération.
They do take a stab at romance and how political ambitions strain relationships but it is never developed or investigated, it stays in the same paper headline reality of the movie.
Frankly this movie greatest flaw is that it lacks intensity. It speculates on what motivated and the decisions that maybe helped Sarkozy win the 2007 elections but it does it in such a boring way that at the end you don't know who to pity more, yourself for the wasted time/money or the ones involved in making such a lame movie.
Sadly I would not recommend this movie to anyone for anything. The French glancing through newspapers headlines will already know more than what this movie has to offer. Anyone else who isn't french will probably expect a story but since it isn't there to begin with I'd save my money, maybe rent House of Cards and for the political insight that this movie offers on french politics just browse the Wikipedia pages on Chirac, Sarkozy and Villepin.
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