Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB
France/Germany/Italy/Belgium, 2021. 3B Productions, Red Balloon Film, Tea Time Film, Ascent Film, Scope Pictures, Arte France Cinema, Bayerischer Rundfunk, Rai Cinema, Ciné+, Eurimages, La Région Île-de-France, Pictanovo, Région Hauts-de-France, Procirep, Tax Shelter du Gouvernement Fédéral Belge, Filmförderfonds Bayern, Filmförderung Hamburg Schleswig-Holstein, Ministero dei Beni e delle Attività Culturali e del Turismo, Apulia Film Commission, SofiTVciné 7, Cinémage 14. Screenplay by Bruno Dumont. Cinematography by David Chambille. Produced by Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat, Muriel Merlin. Production Design by Erwan Le Gal. Costume Design by Alexandra Charles. Film Editing by Nicolas Bier.
The heavy-handed symbolism is apparent from the start of this treatise on the state of French journalism: the main character is a nationally famous anchorwoman named France de Meurs (her last name is a reference to withering away), host of a political hot-topic show but also a correspondent on the ground in dangerous war zones around the world (all of which, as shot by director Bruno Dumont, look staged and artificial, likely on purpose). De Meurs, played with expertise by Léa Seydoux, can barely go anywhere without being asked to take a selfie with a member of the public, constantly moving in and out of her chauffered van with her trusted assistant Lou (Blanche Gardin) from one appointment to the next before heading to her palatial home where her neglected husband and errant son share her luxurious life. The nature of her job is to bring information to the public, but de Meurs is a news anchor in a time when the medium has, in McLuhan’s words, become the message and her personality is the focus, not the news itself. The film opens with a press conference in which she grills Emmanuel Macron, who is skilfully edited in from archive footage, with a provocative question, but her interest is not in his answer to the question but in making sure she’s photographed asking it, and we know this because one of the film’s weirdest indulgences is commedia dell’arte style facial expressions and verbal utterances that she and Lou share with each other in plain view of the world. The circus of her life is put into new perspective when she is involved in a minor traffic incident that injures a bike courier who lives in the banlieu with his immigrant parents; the public lets her off easy but France is moved by the plight of this family who seem to be honoured to have been hurt by someone so famous. No longer able to keep it together on camera, and unwilling to keep faking her way through stories, like reporting live from a boat full of migrants crossing the Mediterranean with her own luxury yacht never too far behind but out of the camera’s sight, she gives up her job and heads to a snowy mountain retreat to reconnect with her true self, finding love with a young man and coming back home a new woman. Has anything changed, or is the corruption of the world something that can no longer be avoided? Dumont doesn’t know, so he falls back on his usual devices that only he, in his woeful lack of intelligence, thinks make for compelling cinema: awkward, unprofessional actors with physical flaws that will surprise a viewer more accustomed to watching glamorous people, characters that are hopelessly vulnerable but who have no passion for anything and therefore just there to be exploited, and a cynical take on the state of humanity but with no cohesive message or purpose. This one at least looks better than most of his films do, the haute couture clothing and dazzling digital lighting schemes everywhere are there to symbolize the cruel artificiality of the modern world but look great doing so, but when Dumont runs out of ideas as to how to look beneath the surface, he just has another stranger ask France for a selfie to highlight the emptiness of modern day celebrity culture. The best aspect of this self-important disaster is Seydoux’s superb performance, she shows a confident command of fake on-camera smiles and is equally powerful in her explosive off-camera realizations, and even more impressively fights to try and figure her way through a narrative that keeps changing its mind about what it really wants to be about.
Cannes Film Festival: In Competition
Toronto International Film Festival: 2021