|A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: Robert Guediguian, France, 2005, 116 mins, French with English subtitles
Cast: Michel Bouquet, Jalil Lespert, Philippe Fretun, Anne Cantineau
The Last Mitterrand - a French docudrama - examines the relationship of President Mitterrand (Bouquet) with young writer Antoine Moreau (Lespert), during the final stages of the prostate cancer that would lead to the Presidentís death in 1995. It is based on the published real life conversations Mitterrand had with journalist and screenwriter Georges-Marc Benamou. As a whole it reminds one rather of a bottle of 1995 Chablis. Or a July spent in Provence. Or the endless desert of Algeria.
Because it is very. Very. Dry.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around the questioning of Mitterrand's role in Vichy era France and the exact dates of his contact with key members of the Resistance. While Mitterrand's ego seems unbridled, and he thinks of himself as the very soul of the Republic, many others consider him at the end of his career to be irrelevant, anachronistic or maybe even criminal. Charged with writing up a series of interviews with the President as a kind of ghost written memoir, Moreau becomes initially infatuated with and then later resentful of the dying Mitterrand, while in the background his own private life shatters as his pregnant wife leaves him.
The Last Mitterrand is certainly politically committed. The tone is reminiscent of a Ken Loach picture, especially during a sequence when Mitterrand addresses a small group of workers at a factory about public ownership of the means of production. And during this same scene a simple shot from inside the President's car as he approaches the crowd makes the goldfish bowl lifestyle of the iconic leader very apparent.
But the flipside of the film's commitment is the expectation of a reciprocal commitment from the audience. If your mind wanders or draws a blank at the mention of Vichy, Rimbaud, Trotsky, Stendahl, Pètain and de Gaulle, then this film will try your patience severely. In fact it's difficult to imagine a sizeable audience for its densely political and historical content in France, let alone in the UK.
And as a character study of the undoubtedly charismatic Mitterrand, it seems two dimensional. Bouquet may have worked hard to capture the mannerisms, but his Mitterrand always speaks in a Gallic growl that is only two steps away from Darth Vader. And while the Presidentís real life story offers a great source of drama, with accusations of a faked assassination attempt, illegal wire tapping and falsified health reports, none of these controversies of his later career are touched upon.
Instead one is offered a series of lengthy, didactic conversations. Mitterrand is prone to aphorisms, which he spouts at every opportunity. 'What is the colour of France?' he asks his minders on a long train journey. (One very French characteristic of the film is the sheer amount of train travel it contains.) The answer, apparently, is 'Grey'. This dull, earnest and overlong picture is similarly lacking in colour.