The French Minister

2013 [FRENCH]


IMDb Rating 6.3 10 3123

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Jane Birkin as Molly Hutchinson
Niels Arestrup as Claude Maupas
Raphaël Personnaz as Arthur Vlaminck

Movie Reviews

Reviewed by prescottjudith 7 / 10

Tavernier's first venture into comedy is a sharply observed look behind-the-scenes at French international diplomacy

Legendary film director Bertrand Tavernier has completely changed register for his latest film, moving from the 16th century court of Charles IX of his last outing, La Princesse de Montpensier, to the corridors of the French foreign ministry with Quai d'Orsay based on the cult comic strip book of the same name. The book was co-produced by Antonin Baudry (writing under the pen name, Abel Lanzac), a young diplomat who worked as a speechwriter for former French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin. It has already enjoyed a huge critical success in France and this year took the prestigious best book prize at the annual comic strip festival in Angouleme. Quai d'Orsay draws on Baudry's experience of working with Villepin and his close knit circle of advisers and friends to depict a Kafkaesque world of confusing complexity deftly brought to the screen by Tavernier. Despite a career spanning nearly forty years, this is Tavernier's first venture into pure comedy. He has produced a film running at full tilt which weaves farce, burlesque, and fantasy into a tight, funny package that casts a sharp eye over the political machine without sliding into political satire.

Raphael Personnaz is Arthur Vlaminck, a recent graduate from the highly prestigious Ecole Nationale d'Administration, which produces most of France's top politicians from both sides of the political fence. Although he doesn't fit the stereotype of a young diplomat with his shabby clothes and gauche manner, he is hired by the minister Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry L'Hermite) to work at the foreign ministry drafting speeches for the minister himself. His lack of previous political experience makes him an easy target for the power struggles and back- stabbing of the minister's support network of advisers and back room staff. And it's not long before he's spinning between the minister, his chief of staff (Niels Arestrup) and a cabal of hard- nosed technocrats. Gradually Arthur learns the skills he needs to survive and find his place in the cut-throat world of high-level international diplomacy.

Translating what works on the written page to the big screen is a difficult task and Tavernier has plumped for the rhythm of the original comic strip, with one scene following another in quick succession. A couple of devices come straight from the comic strip format itself. Each time Vorms enters a room, for example, he is preceded by a gust of wind, a visual 'woosh', that sends books and papers flying and his language at times descends into childish invention. But Vorms is no fool. He is passionate about his role as foreign minister and is an exacting, if at times, slightly hysterical boss. L'Hermitte is perfectly cast as the academic, haughty minister who has the heart of a poet but not the talent. He shows a skill for comedy rarely exploited in recent years. One of the film's funniest scenes is a lecture by the minister to his staff on the importance of using a fluorescent pen to highlight a text delivered by l'Hermitte with just the right touch of insanity. Arestrup, as the faithful, world weary eminence grise, is the perfect counterpoint to the high-maintenance foreign minister and his Buddha-like presence often acts as a brake to stop the action from spinning out of control.

The film ends with a speech delivered by Vorms/Villepin to the UN back in 2003, the only speech ever to have received a standing ovation from the other members of the organisation. It's a moving finale to a whirlwind, behind-the-scenes tour of French diplomacy. Although some of the scenes seem to stretch credibility, Villepin is said to have seen the film and reported that it doesn't go far enough!

Reviewed by jsy3-404-835783 8 / 10

A whimsical political satire, which never loses sight of its realist tendencies.

Taking a break from the world of drama, and coming fresh off a 16th century period piece, Bertrand Tavernier tests his hand in the world of comedy. "The French Minister", adapted from the comic book "Quai d'Orsay", is a whimsical political satire, which never loses sight of its realist tendencies. A transparent parody of the US-Iraq conflict, substituting Iraq for the fictional country of Lousdemistan, "The French Minister" depicts the life of Arthur Vlaminck, the freshly hired speech writer for the French minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms. Throughout the film Arthur is consistently hurled through a sea of endless rewrites and bureaucratic minutia, all the while, balancing the verbose personalities of the diplomats with whom he is forced to work with.

The film is an absolute pleasurable viewing experience that places the viewer in rapid succession of loosely connected vignettes. Lacking the typical story structure, the film rather invites the viewer into the world of diplomacy and bureaucracy, in a fashion that seems more circular than linear. One of Tavernier's strengths throughout the film is his ability to match the spaces in which the characters reside to the signification of their position in the bureaucratic machine. The circular nature of the narrative, and the spatial and temporal order Tavernier utilizes, comments of the ineffective, even comic, nature of bureaucracy.

Contradiction and repetition form the basis for the film's humor, as Arthur is continually shuffled from room to room; failing to be able to distinguish advice from deception. Despite the clear notion that Arthur represents the film's main character, he remains vacant for large sequences. Further, in many of the scenes where Arthur and Alexendre appear together, Arthur's presence is completely dominated by the aura of Alexandre, allowing the viewer to disregard Arthur altogether. Similar to style of the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, the film's absence of a strong central figure allows for the stronger analysis of a series of characters, each representing a larger part of society. In this manner, the audience is not forced into the psychology of any one character, but allowed to view all of the characters from a distanced space.

Thierry Lhermitte's portrayal of Alexandre, paired with Tavernier's visual treatment, fashions a dynamic and dominating character. His narcissistic and pretentious attributes are equally matched by charisma and charm. Lhermitte's performance performs a similar overwhelming task on the audience, as his character does on Arthur. Likewise, through Tavernier's added elements of comic heightening, while farcical, remain grounded at all times in realism. Depicted as moving with such intensity that his entrances consistently cause stacks of paper to explode into a whirlwind of chaos, obsessing over highlighters to a point of absolute comic absurdity, and neurotically referring to his texts, Llhermitte's character is rife with humor.

As a testament to the writing, the film requires no deep knowledge of the political workings of government, nor does it fail to seem applicable to US notions of government. Despite its intimate relation to French culture and politics, the film's comedy is universal. Requiring from the viewer only their attention span, "The French Minister" performs the rest of the work. Travernier's film is a humorous and imaginative romp just waiting to be discovered.

Originally published via StageBuddy by Joe Yanick

Reviewed by corrosion-2 6 / 10

Political Satire

Quai d'Orsay is based on a comic book by Abel Lanzac (pseudonym for Antonin Baudry) who worked at the French Foreign Ministry (known colloquially as Quai d'Orsay, after its location in Paris) as former foreign minister Dominique de Villepin's speech writer for several years.

In the film we have Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz) , a young speech writer for foreign minister Alexandre de Worms (played with relish by Thierry Lhermitte) who suffers from the minister's continuous barrage of shallow slogans instead of helpful directives. Tavernier has portrayed de Worms as a pretentious, shallow person with few redeeming features who appears to spend all his working hours highlighting quotations by his favorite authors with yellow highlighters. The film itself is a fast moving and reasonably funny farce focusing on the minister's helplessness in encounters at the UN, lunch with a Nobel Laurette, managing crisis at home (where he is ever reliant on the old hand Claude (played by the veteran actor Niels Arestrup) ad so on.

Quai d'Orsay passes the time quite pleasingly mainly thanks to fine acting and brisk direction but is not a high point in Bertrand Tavernier's body of work.

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