The Statesman (Un homme d’État, France 2014)

The President with his campaign poster 'Carrying on together'

The President with his campaign poster ‘Carrying on together’

This was the third and last of ‘The Summer of French Films‘ promotion via Picturehouse Cinemas that I was able to catch (and I had to travel to York to catch it). Un homme d’État screened at Cannes and Montreal in 2014 but I suspect Unifrance is struggling to sell it internationally. At the moment there is only one review in English that I’ve found and virtually nothing on IMDB. In fact it barely registers on a web search.

This is that rare beast – a political drama that is actually about the business of politics. It isn’t a political thriller or a melodrama, just a drama. The right-wing sitting President is seeking re-election and floundering in the polls. He asks his aides to create something – anything – to move him up a few points or he will lose in the first round of voting. One of the aides suggests a trip to the South West and the suggestion of an alliance with an ‘old lion’ of the left, a retired politician of some standing. By turning leftwards rather than to the extreme right the President could secure the centre and attract votes. But how could the leftist M. Bergman be persuaded to at least appear to support the President? Cherchez la femme! A young(ish) woman amongst the President’s campaign team seems the logical choice and she is despatched to Gascony to meet Bergman. I won’t spoil the narrative except to say that there is a satisfying twist in the dénouement.

The problem that Unifrance face in selling the film here is that the cast and crew are virtually unknown in the UK and the central subject of French Presidential politics isn’t particularly sexy. French films are often dismissed (unfairly and through ignorance) as ‘all talk’. In this case it’s true – the film is primarily talk. But this is actually its strength and it is the script which provides the one hook for a UK audience in that it is co-written by François Bégaudeau who also wrote the Cannes prizewinner Entre les murs (The Class) in 2008. Bégaudeau also has a role in Un homme d’État as a journalist.

The envoy Safia Khalifa (Samia Dahmane)

The envoy Safia Khalifa (Samia Dahmane)

I found the film clunky for the first half hour or so and I struggled to get involved in the narrative. The subtitles seemed sub-standard (I’m sure at one point reference is made to a politician as ‘President of Africa’!) and I thought that the music was poorly used – loud and obtrusive at times for no apparent reason. However, I did get into the narrative gradually and once Safia Khalifa (Samia Dahmane) arrived in Gascony things started to pick up. I began to see the way the script worked and to appreciate the dialogue despite the subtitles. Making the envoy a French-Maghrebi woman is consistent with contemporary French politics and her first two actions on meeting M. Bergman (Pierre Santini) are to hold up a young sapling he is planting and to accept a glass of wine from his vineyards (the President doesn’t drink as we learn later on). I only realised the symbolism of these two actions after the screening when I was reflecting on the film. Clearly I was just not tuned in. On the plus side I thought that Patrick Braoudé as the President and Santini and Dahmane were all well cast and gave good performances. I was grateful that we were spared sex scandals and tabloid sensations and the actual political manoeuvrings were interesting. I began to see the script as witty and sharp. Many of the actors come from TV and since I know very little about French TV drama I’m wondering if perhaps this film would be more recognisable to French TV audiences (i.e. because of its style/acting/script as well as its content)? The film’s director and co-writer Pierre Courrège is relatively inexperienced as a features director for cinema although he does teach writing at EICAR (Ecole Internationale de Création Audiovisuelle et de Réalisation).

The French Summer of Film

I have enjoyed the three films I’ve seen and they were all worthwhile in different ways. I do, however, think that the season has been poorly promoted (surely the purpose of the venture is to promote French Cinema?) and I’ve only seen promo material within Picturehouse cinemas. I was interested that there were none of the usual ads preceding the films – a condition of the screenings? There was a much bigger audience for the York film than for the Bradford screenings.

The trailer for Un homme d’état (the archive footage isn’t all in the film) which demonstrates some of its problems:

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