Art critique

Bruno Dumont’s France is a compelling, albeit convoluted, critique of celebrity culture


“Forget about a better future, progress, ideals… it’s all dead. This is what makes us suffer. Only the present remains. Here and now. Forget all the expectations. Don’t procrastinate.

For more than two minutes of the final monologue of France, Bruno Dumont’s last effort, Léa Seydoux stares at the camera, barely blinks, dark circles under the eyes. One could easily imagine such philosophical ramblings sung in Teutonic timbre by Werner Herzog, or buried in the affirmative polemics of Friedrich Nietzsche. Instead, they conclude a speech the main character in the film makes to her ex-lover after he betrays her. “I’ve known worse sorrows since,” she tells him stoically when he asks for forgiveness. “This one is insignificant. Life puts things in perspective.

It can be argued that only Bruno Dumont could get away with directing a satirical drama lasting more than two hours on France, entitled France, representing an ironic heroine named France de Meurs. And surely little but Seydoux could remain as captivating on the screen in a film which, despite all its scathing parody of the media in its first two thirds, finally bowed down to the bathos. France de Meurs is the country’s most prominent television journalist, known for her witty retorts to rival politicians during her evening news hour, A vision of the world, as it is for the rambling coverage of global unrest. Her life ready for Insta implodes when she accidentally collides with a motorcyclist after dropping her son off at school. “Are you OK?” she asks, abandoning her hatchback in traffic. “Where does it hurt?” A policeman arrives in seconds, as do passers-by with smartphones, impatient to see the French favorite journalist become her own title.

Léa Seydoux in France, directed by Bruno Dumont, 2021

From a Rafisime director perhaps best known for his recent diptych of Joan of Arc, much of France continues Dumont’s tradition of celebrating and questioning the Republic for its persistent contradictions. Both said to be a woman of the people and a well-dressed member of Parisian sequins, de Meurs transforms her car accident, and the media imbroglio that follows, into a spectacle of redemption that only improves her public image. “We watch each other on TV every day”, gushes the mother of Baptiste (Jawad Zemmer), the victim, who is convalescing in the hospital with a dislocated kneecap when France and her assistant, Lou (Blanche Gardin), him visit with flowers. “It’s an honor.” When asked on a TV talk show how the young man is doing, France bursts into tears, and it’s hard to say if her regret is sincere or staged – or if, for his character, there is even a difference.

This is when the tone of the film shifts from playful snark to heavy drama. France quit her job as a television specialist and fled to a luxury sanatorium in the Alps to reflect on the meaning of life, during which time she falls in love with Lolo (Marc Bettinelli), who seems charming to the shelter of its celebrity charms. Serenading spontaneously on a snowy walk with a funeral song in medieval Latin about “the end of the world”, Lolo offers everything that the stiff novelist of France cannot: youth, sincerity and, above all, escape .

Léa Seydoux in France, directed by Bruno Dumont, 2021

Back to domestic life in her huge apartment, France decides to return to television journalism, but not without a series of very public defeats that leave her to question everything, both personal and professional. If the film had ended here – Lou reassuring his boss that after his latest public relations fiasco, “You’ll be resurrected as a heroine” – Dumont’s critique of hypocrisy and psychological carnage, both inherent in both to the media culture of his country and at large, would have resonated more powerfully. What follows appears to be an attempt at a climax that seems almost laughable overkill, leading to an often painful 30 minutes on the tragedy of human existence.

France It might not be a great movie, but its narrative and tonal weaknesses highlight how strong Seydoux is like her beating heart, how well she adapts physically and expressively when thrown into contexts. divergent. Climbing a cliff in an unnamed war-torn country, she orders her cameramen to get in motion – “Take me the pictures!” I want the ruins! – only to feign tears as she reports an alien battle. “Wherever we go, the images of war are the same. Those of tragedy and desolation. Onscreen, the actor rarely looks the same, putting his form-shifting prowess to maximum effect – alternately tearful and tearful, cheeky and seductive, manipulative and introspective. “Monsieur. Mr. President, one can wonder about the insurrectionary state of French society,” she soberly annoys in the front row of a press conference on the opening scene. “Are you carefree or Helpless? In the next shot, she winks at Lou, who playfully mimics oral sex from the back of the room, mocking Macron’s majestic response.

Léa Seydoux in France, directed by Bruno Dumont, 2021

Perhaps the most compelling scenes in the film are those where Dumont’s political concerns are most clearly at stake. “What is capitalism? poses a skinny man in a tuxedo at his table during a fundraiser to which France is invited. “Capitalism is the gift of oneself to others. It means fighting for virtues, both moral and spiritual, ”he replies, to the tinkling sounds of champagne flutes. France’s empty face disturbs the chorus of nods around her. As she fled to the bathroom, a socialite dressed in fur asks her if “Madame de Meurs is on the left or on the right?” “What difference does that make?” is Seydoux’s response, looking over her glittery shoulder.

“She knows she is part of the capitalist system,” the actor told the New York Times on his eponymous character. “But she is aware of the fact that she is also a tool of the system. And she is aware of her own alienation. Despite all of Dumont’s cynicism, Seydoux comes across as surprisingly sincere. If redemption is ultimately futile in France, the on-screen virtuosity of its star makes the film interesting to watch.

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