The film Changer la vie! describes the first years in power of the French left-wing government under the leadership of Francois Mitterrand. Between 1981 and 1983 the socialist parties attempted to realize an ambitious social program, consisting of no less than 110 points. It included a reduction of working hours (retirement at 60), an increase of the minimum wage with 25%, workers co-management, fifth week of payed holidays, and a nationalization of the major industrial sectors. The government hoped to reduce unemployment, and to stimulate (relance) the economy by means of deficit spending. In retrospect this policy seems highly speculative, but it reflected the contemporary French society, that had retained some of its reformatory spirits of the late sixties. For instance the French Bolchevist party was still a significant player (imagine!). Within a year the inflation soared and the balance of trade became negative. Finally in 1983 the government had to reinstall austerity measures, and that was the end of the experiment. During the remaining twelve years in power president Mitterrand became the head of a moderate and sometimes right-wing state. Evidently this first short period of left-wing euphoria is interesting stuff for a film director, and Serge Moati has the advantage that he always supported Mitterrand. Apparently Mitterrand even made Moati the director of a state-owned TV station. In Changer la vie! Moati combines authentic contemporary film material with short acted scenes. The fiction parts are used to portray the doubts, that at the time tormented Mitterrand and some of his companions. But in spite of this added drama, the film remains essentially a documentary. A fascinating moment occurs, when at the end of 1981 Mitterrand is diagnosed with prostate cancer. His physician prognosticates his death in 1982, but Mitterrand will survive for another fourteen years. It is food for conspiracy theories. Unfortunately Changer la vie! lacks subtitles, and since the talking is fast and the vocabulary is complicated, I could understand only 20% of all sentences. This was enough to grasp the essence, but insufficient to judge the quality of the dialogs. My impression is that Mitterrand was undoubtedly a good manager, but had a rather uninspiring personality. This aspect makes the awe of his companions ("oui, monsieur le president") a bit ludricous to watch. It is difficult to imagine a similar relationship between for instance Bush and Rumsfeld, or Obama and H. Clinton. Classical socialism (nationalizations etc.) seems to seduce people to change into bureaucrats - people have no alternative for the state. Of course Moati is biased, but in general he seems to stick to the facts. In conclusion Changer la vie! manages to convey the enthusiasm of the period, which makes it more agreeable to watch than the usual dusty documentaries.
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