The Movie Waffler New Release Review [MUBI] - FRANCE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [MUBI] - FRANCE

New Release Review [MUBI] - FRANCE
A celebrity reporter is involved in a freak accident.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Bruno Dumont

Starring: Léa Seydoux, Benjamin Biolay, Blanche Gardin, Emanuele Arioli

france poster

France, the central character of take-him-or-leave-him auteur Bruno Dumont’s France, is a news reporter whose Parisian celebrity falls somewhere between Emily Maitlis and Kate Garraway: respected for her unflinching reportage of frontline combat, the glamorous France is also a recurrent, aspirational feature on the covers of tabloid mags.

As France’s significant running time unspools there is an ongoing leit motif of extras and minor characters interacting with France with an open-faced awe, a grinning stupefaction which betrays the para-social connections they have to this persona, and which enables France to behave in ways which belie the trust they have in her perceived status (even as it further isolates her in increasing emotional purgatory, the focus of the eventual narrative).

france review

Played by Léa Seydoux, France herself is a capricious and opaque presence. Aloof, but silly; opportunist, yet seemingly jaded to the largesse her profile affords her; Seydoux’s performance of this strange woman is highly watchable. An opening sequence sees France at a press conference for the president, yet throughout Macron’s performance, France goofs off, making funny faces across the room to her workmate while Macron addresses the press. Unprofessional!

The aptitude France displays for multi-tasking (pissing about while addressing a head of state) does not, however, extend to driving and using the phone. En route she knocks over a moped user at low speed, which serves as a peripeteia of sorts for the one-part-guilty-to-two-parts-aware-how-this-could-play-out-for-her-profile France. She gives the courier a lump sum, and apologies to his parents (who are glassily star struck by her) but the matter is not so easily remedied. Her husband isn’t happy for a start, which further fractures their bourgeoise complacency. Retreating to a spa, she falls in with a fella who may just provide her with the real sensations of love she craves, but who actually turns out to be an undercover reporter. Ooops.

france review

The irony is as bold as France’s bright red lipstick and severely lacquered hair, but throughout France you may wonder at what level the satire is pitched. Is it at news media and pernicious celebrity culture, or is France a mockery of the sort of films which take aim at such obvious targets? From the broad stroke of the eponymous title to a seemingly earnest run through of the old Broadcast News switcheroo skit, the viewer questions whether the former provocateur Dumont would ever be so facile. If somewhere the joke has been missed, and if, in fact, that Dumont is taking le mick on another level.

Certainly, the depiction of France’s day job has a detailed verisimilitude and seems straight faced in its presentation. We see her rush towards exploding danger in Africa, and in a story closer to home she purports to travel with refugees, who are crossing the channel in destitution. However, even here France’s motivations are ambiguous: is she grifting for ratings, sincerely doing her job, or is the truth somewhere between? The apparent uncertainty is pleasing, what isn’t, however, is the lingering suspicion that Dumont is again simply offering a didactic condemnation of 24-hour news cycles, which these cold-eyed representations of suffering, so close to the real world, would support in their human horror.

france review

In another layer though (this one of plush and fabulous fabric), one wonders if ideology even matters: after all, for every single delicious minute of screen time she has, Seydoux is at god level here. And her costumes! A character consoles with the statement that "things only last 24 hours now." Maybe, but a day later I am still wondering which of France’s amazing outfits was my favourite; the satin top with a likewise lilac short sleeve jacket, the lux pink trouser suit, the snow wear? (Thank you, costume designer Alexandra Charles).

Put bluntly, Seydoux is just so cool isn’t she: come on, don’t you want to be more like her? That insistent intelligence behind those inscrutable, wide features? The imperial aloofness? Seydoux’s remoteness is essential to France, captivating us even when we are not sure the film deserves our focus, or if the so-so principles warrant close attention. Like the open-mouthed plebs who buckle in the presence of France’s recognisability, we too are spellbound, without really understanding why. Perhaps then Dumont’s direction of this incredible actor and the delineation of her volatile character is the ultimate testimony of his intention, and of this similarly mercurial director’s playful nihilism.

France is on MUBI UK from December 29th.