Movie Review by Jonathan Harvey
Starring: Michel Bouquet, Jalil Lespert, Philippe Fretun, Anne Cantineau
Director: Robert Guediguian
The 80s French government of Francois Mitterand now seems a fair old way away, and it’s perhaps for this reason that director Robert Guediguian decided he’d make a suitable subject for the biopic treatment – well, that and the fact that Mitterand was so enigmatic a figure (and a very different political animal from the ‘Iron Lady’ persona of Maggie Thatcher, his British counterpart).
It’s Mitterand’s personality, his opinions and the secrets of his wartime past that provide the focus of the movie, rather than the tumultuous political events of his time in office, and it’s a perhaps surprisingly reflective piece detailing the president’s struggles as he copes with cancer in his dying days. Michel Bouquet is wholly convincing in his portrayal of Mitterand’s curious mix of character, flitting between stubbornness one moment and a mischievous sense of humour the next, which becomes all the more poignant as his illness worsens. Yet not all the drama comes from Mitterand himself, as instead his characterisation as we see it is refracted through the one-to-one interviews he grants with biographer Antoine (Jalil Lespert). It’s this device that helps conjure a sense of how captivating Mitterand was, as Antoine’s relentless passion to seek out the truth leads to him to neglect his own personal life.
The drama is played out at a slow tempo, and whether you can enjoy it for two hours may well depend on how much interest you can muster in Mitterand the man. It’s not the sort of movie that ever lights the blue touch-paper, but it proves itself to be a delicately written drama brought to life by two strong performances by the leads, and is a timely look back at the life of an intriguing world statesman of the recent past.