Xavier Durringer tells Screen that Thiérry Fremaux’s decision to include Durringer’s film The Conquest, which charts Nicolas Sarkozy’s rise to power, in the Cannes line-up was a “total surprise”.

“I like to work with unexpected subjects that offer a reflection on the world,” Durringer says of the hotly anticipated film, which is set against the backdrop of the French president’s relationship with ex-wife Cecilia.

Screening out of competition, it is the first film ever to dramatise a story around a sitting French president.

The local media and even the president himself have had something to say about it. Sarkozy recently said he would not see the film, partly out of an attempt to avoid being overly narcissistic and partly out of respect for his current wife, Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. Coincidentally, she had a role in Woody Allen’s opening night film and there were rumours she decided not to grace the red carpet out of protest at The Conquest’s inclusion (but most people speculate it’s just because she’s pregnant and hasn’t yet officially announced it).

Durringer admits to having felt a lot of pressure when he decided to pursue the project. “It was a sort of moral pressure — I couldn’t do it and just say anything. But the desire was there mixed with a bit of fear.”

Now the fear has shifted to opening-night jitters. Screen has run into Durringer a number of times during the festival and each time he was excited, but nervous. Earlier on, he had said: “To be there and see how thousands of people are going to react — it’s going to be completely magical.”