Since we are dealing with three possible variations on “France” – France the country, France the heroine and France the movie, I will differentiate them as follows:
France the movie will be “ France”
France the heroine will be France
France the country will be FRANCE
Bond girl Lea Seydoux stars as the film’s eponymous heroine, France de Meurs, the country’s top news anchor in director Bruno Dumont’s latest offering which debuted at the 2021 Cannes Film Festival. Like the Cate Blanchett character in Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” (see much more below), she is a sad example of how low a once noble profession has sunk in our age of split-second attention spans and instant gratification.
The incipit is impressive.
The incipit is impressive. We are at a press conference, with French president Emmanuel Macron, which is edited to look as if France is really there in the front row. We are primed for some delicious back and forth between them but this does not happen. Instead, France and her producer Lou (French comedienne Blanch Gardin, Louis CK’s better half), who is standing at the side of the room, start to crack each other up by making obscene gestures which mostly reference oral sex.
I know, this probably sounds hilarious on paper, but it isn’t. It’s insulting and clueless and, just like “Don’t Look Up”, which it begins to increasingly resemble as it proceeds, it is out of touch with the zeitgeist. First off, no French person, in fact no person of any sovereign state would be that rude, that disrespectful. Second, in the FRANCE that I am familiar with, this sort of outrageous behavior would not be tolerated for an instant. An escort to the front entrance would be the order of the day.
Don’t Look Up Redux.
And that, my friends is the major problem with “France”, Dumont’s attempt to satirize the French media. Like “Don’t Look Up” the tone of the film is all over the place. France goes on trips to dangerous places around the world to bolster her “serious” image but, it transpires, some of these are faked. Are they all faked? If not, why some and not others? No explanation is given.
Then, at odd moments, Dumont slows things down and we find ourselves in Todd Haynes/Douglas Sirk territory as France, always dressed in some magnificent creation from the Avenue Montaigne, looks sadly at the camera for extended periods as tears well-up in her eyes (she is in an unhappy marriage with a little boy who does not like to be touched). I half expected her to walk down to the banks of the Seine where Dumont could recapture the magic of Anton Grot (production design), Ernest Haller (cinematography) and Michael Curtiz (direction) in the classic opening sequence from “Mildred Pierce” where Mildred contemplates suicide on the Santa Monica pier. No dice!
As it stands, the movie is composed of so many disparate elements and themes, none of which work, that it completely self destructs with about an hour remaining. It was a tough screening.