Directed by: Bruno Dumont | 134 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Léa Seydoux, Blanche Gardin, Benjamin Biolay, Emanuele Arioli, Juliane Köhler, Gaëtan Amiel, Jawad Zemmar, Marc Bettinelli, Lucile Roche, Noura Benbahlouli, Abdellah Chahouat, Alfred de Montesquiou, Kristian Feigelson, Nabil Wakim, François-Xavier Tristan Sadeghi
“In the war, the truth is the first to die.” However, is this only because of the warring factions or also because of the attention competition between international reporters covering human drama as if they were playing in the Champions League? The French celebrity and television journalist France de Meurs, portrayed without false note by Léa Seydoux, has a nose for explosive scoops. Any war or immigrant crisis is on her radar. It’s a shame there are only 24 hours in 24-hour news, because the brash star journalist just doesn’t seem to manage to maintain her ever-growing popularity on television. In addition to the attention-hungry media, director Bruno Dumont’s satirical ‘France’ also holds up an uncomfortable mirror to his audience.
From the start of his career, director Dumont does not shy away from controversy. He often uses amateur actors in gray environments and focuses the camera in a characteristic flat style on the clumsiness of humanity. Dumont is also regarded as the unofficial heir to the throne of the director Robert Bresson, who was known for his transcendental and biting cinema about the human condition (including ‘Pickpocket’, 1959, and ‘L’argent’, 1983). However, would Bresson have directed a crime story on the French north coast with a cast that partly consists of people with disabilities (‘P’tit Quinquin’, 2014)? Dumont is mainly interested in what chafes in humans, the banal in the sublime. The constant in his oeuvre is the absurd and sometimes repulsive humor, again fully present in ‘France’, and still makes Dumont an outsider in the film world.
In a scornful manner, ‘France’ ridicules the personality cult in television journalism: scoring in order to score, not primarily finding the truth, but promoting one’s own status. Dumont takes great pleasure in deconstructing television news and this results in painfully hilarious scenes. During a journalistic expedition in a war zone, France de Meurs is so eager for explosive material that she commands local rebels without any embarrassment to capture the best possible poses on film. Once back in the homeland, France presents the elaborate flash news deadly serious to the television audience. Also, the one – tweets between France and her unsuspecting personal assistant Lou (Blanche Gardin) and part-timer in crime – “speak straight what is crooked” are comedy gold.
“Elle Pleure”. France de Meurs sobs and cries a bit during the reports. Tears also flow when she sits alone on a bench somewhere in Paris. There she tries to recover from another public slip or an annoying private matter. But the line between the outdoors and the spotlight is paper thin for the star journalist, judging by the common Frenchman’s endless hunt for selfies with her. Even her tears are public property. The waterlanders of France de Meurs seem to echo those of the tried and canonized Joan of Arc in ‘La Passion de Joan of Arc’ (Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928). Is France also a modern saint but on TV? However, isn’t De Meurs looking for misery for his own gain? Dumont is only too happy to leave you with nagging questions.
The oppressive atmosphere in ‘France’ is reminiscent of the stifling bourgeoisie in ‘Belle de jour’ (Luis Bunuel, 1967) and Seydoux to the impeccable Catherine Deneuve as Séverine Serizyin, wife by night, luxurious call girl by day. But in Dumont’s film, the taboo is not so much suppressed sexual desire as the desire for unbridled attention, the new king under the sun.
The unpredictable ‘France’ eventually strikes such an alienating tone and follows so many outlandish twists and turns that it can make the viewer dizzy. Yet it doesn’t let go until you give in or give in. Most fascinating of all are the transverse contradictions in the film, especially France de Meurs’ ever uncertain and at the same time inexorable conscience.