English title: ‘The Minister’. This is one of the better films about politics I’ve seen lately, specifically about the functioning of power near the summit of the state (of the French state, but it could be any state). It focuses on a minister of transportation, played by Olivier Gourmet, who comes from civil society—i.e. is not a professional politician—in a government that could be either of the right or the left (the film does not specify), and who arrives in office with high-minded principles but ends up compromising them after being instrumentalized and outwitted by his ministerial colleagues, all political pros. It’s a cynical view of politics and power, to say the least. I found the final quarter hour of the film not too plausible but this did not detract from its overall quality, particularly as the rest of it was more than plausible. It won the FIPRESCI Un certain regard award at Cannes this year and was mostly well reviewed in the Hollywood press (here and here). French reviews, not surprisingly, were tops.
Whatever flaws ‘L’Exercice de l’État’ may have had, it was far superior to another French political themed film that showed at Cannes, ‘Pater’, directed by Alain Cavalier. The entire pic is just Cavalier and Vincent Lindon in a mentor-protégé relationship, with Cavalier as President of the Republic and Lindon his Prime Minister. It was only well into the film that I realized that they were play acting, that it was all a game. I am clearly a naïf, or just clueless. I was quite irritated, couldn’t wait for the film to end, and left the cinema in a bad mood. The pic predictably received dithyrambic reviews by French critics, who fell over themselves with praise. Anglo-American critics who saw it at Cannes were less impressed. Variety thus fired this salvo
The epitome of an in-joke, best appreciated by director Alain Cavalier and his slender cast, “Pater” is a confounding slog for most anyone else. Curiously tapped for a Cannes competition slot, this sloppily improvised film about filmmaking doesn’t bother to make clear whether and how it’s a mock-docu account of the shooting of a French prime minister biopic, as Cavalier cavalierly squanders the chance to represent his meta-narrative in stylistically coherent terms. Dialogue about the great glory of appearing in a Cavalier film does nothing to minimize one’s pervasive sense of “Pater” as the auteur’s excruciating display of unearned arrogance. Cavalier appears directing Vincent Lindon in the P.M. role and gratuitously mentioning that he hasn’t donned a tux since his film “Therese” was at Cannes in 1986. That the pic’s title translates as “Old Man” is odd in that the ostensible star is Lindon, who distinguishes himself by nervously playing a nervous actor playing a nervous politician. Lingering shots of wine bottles and moist truffles on a plate accentuate the feeling of a private party, one to which only the director’s inner circle and least discriminating fans have been invited.
Screen Daily offered this assessment
Occasionally droll and engaging, this often opaque venture ultimately disappears up its own meta-cinematic derrière, and is unlikely to appeal outside a hardcore coterie of Francophile lovers of experiment. Commercial prospects are negligible.
And this from Time Out
…after about half an hour or so it all turns a little smug and inconsequential, rather like an in-joke. Perhaps it will mean more to French audiences…
Perhaps the French audiences that actually saw it, as it was not exactly a box office hit on the banks of the Seine, loin s’en faut. Hollywood Reporter was a little nicer
Witty, urbaine and quintessentially French, Pater is a game two famous adult men play with the camera in an offbeat film closer to documentary than to fiction. Director Alain Cavalier and his friend, actor Vincent Lindon, film themselves as they pretend to be businessmen-politicians campaigning for office. The politics are so tongue-in-cheek and the protags so articulate and funny that the film works – at least for the cognoscenti of France, a small niche that can expand to include film societies and upscale festivals. Everyone else is likely to feel excluded from their private party.
I certainly felt excluded, and had no wish to be included.
Another political film I saw recently—this one straight from Hollywood—was ‘The Ides of March,’ directed by George Clooney. Thought I would like this one—particularly given the cast—but I didn’t. It irritated me almost from the get go. The dialogue was a caricature of the way politicos talk and the portrayal of the dynamics of the campaign—of a Democratic presidential candidate in the Ohio primary—from the inside was what Hollywood thinks happens inside campaigns. Numerous scenes and situations did not ring true or were simply preposterous (e.g. the secret meeting in the bar, the way in which the governor’s endorsement was acquired, the affair of the communications director with the intern, et j’en passe). As for the message of the film, that politics is a dirty business, the only thing I can say is: duh. I paid no attention to reviews of this (which were mostly good, on both sides of the Atlantic).The only critiques I’m interested in are by politicos, who have worked as full-time campaign staffers. So far I have not seen any.
UPDATE: Here’s one good review—i.e. a review I agree with—of ‘The Ides of March’, from The Huffington Post.