The Last Mitterrand (PG)



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Time Out says

Tue Jul 26 2005

Robert Guédiguian is known for left-leaning Renoir-esque comedies and dramas set in and around the Marseille area and starring his wife and friends. So anyone familiar with ‘Marius et Jeanette’ or ‘A la Place du Coeur’ might initially feel disoriented by this lightly fictionalised account of the last days of François Mitterand, French President for over a decade, as viewed from the perspective of Moreau (Jalil Lespert), a young journalist invited – like Georges-Marc Benamou, whose book inspired the film – to work on Mitterand’s memoirs. Given Guédiguian’s evident desire to remind us again of the ethical and other advantages of socialism, any such confusion will be short-lived; likewise, prejudices that virtual two-handers dealing with French political history are boring will also probably go the way of all flesh. Nominally, the ‘story’ hinges on what Mitterand had been up to in 1942 – was he with Vichy or already with the Resistance? – but the film, which wholly ignores certain sensational and/or non-political aspects of his character and career, transcends factual investigation to provide a moving meditation on the troubling parallel relationship between Mitterand’s ailing body (when it begins, he’s already in great pain from prostrate cancer) and the body politic. It offers an elegiac tribute to a kind of morally aware socialism now too often replaced by considerations of finance and spin. As such it’s an ambivalent but deeply affecting work; the marvellous Michel Bouquet’s performance as the erudite, witty, stubborn, sometimes seemingly indomitable protagonist is as brave as it is brilliant.

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I was prepared to see this film as a whitewash: the facts are never quite uncovered.Was he for the Resistance or was he an anti-semite supporter of Bouquet?He strangely traversed from the right to the left in French politics,was treated as a traitor,a chameleon,a man who would be King.We see him gazing dewy-eyed at the recumbent memorials of previous kings and leaders, wanting to secure his own place in history.He was the longest ruling French socialist and the last, even using the term 'socialism' in speeches prior to the oncoming tides of globalisation and world markets dictating political forces. After him(mirroring DeGaulle's'le Deluge') there will,he tells the young journalist,Moreau, be only accountants and technocrats.Bouquet gives a mesmeric performance as the wily,old schemer dropping lavish quotes from literature and history.Moreau the left wing idealist is presented as infatuated with his importance to socialism(reflecting Guediquian's approach to his subject) but also realizing the personal cost of writing the book-he loses his partner who is disgusted by Mitterrand. He does not merely wish to be a ghostwriter so he attempts,unsuccessfully,to confront him with slight discrepancies in the facts and is humiliated or brushed aside at every turn. He is charmed more by the reminiscences of a great statesman and what to look for in women as he is looking for somebody new.He also has a slight wake up call to the fact that his calls are being monitored as he visits Vichy.Mitterand's secret daughter is mentioned but his 62 affairs in his 14 years of Presidency,his illicit appetites or surveillance of his opponents, even his attendance at pro-fascist rallies in his youth are never really disclosed.The equation between his diseased and ailing body and the French body politic is made by Guediquian,the director.His stubborness and charm win through(witness him being kissed by a young French women after he steps down and walks along a French street) and his importance in French political life is ably remembered through the treatment he is given in this film. Lucky to the last to have such a director, writer and actor as his last memorial.