Dir. RobertGuediguian. Fr. 2005. 116mins.
A finely etched portrait of Francois Mitterand,one of Europe's last political giants, Robert Guediguian's new film finds theProvencal director in top form, dealing with the kind of material he favours:politics and its application in individual terms.
Proceeding at aleisurely pace and advancing with great care, The Last Mitterand pansout as a two-man chamber piece for two. On one side is the French president(Bouquet), a master approaching the end of his life, on the other is AntoineMoreau (Lespert), a young left-wing journalist and apprentice eager to learnall before it is too late.
Assisted by RenatoBerta's luminous camera work, Guediguian's first feature made outside hisbeloved Marseilles and without his faithful troupe of actors returns him to theforefront of French cinema after the lukewarm response to his previous effort, MonPere Est Ingenieur.
But The LastMitterand will struggle beyond Francophone territories (it opens in Franceafter its Berlinale competition slot) not only because it is so deeply rootedin French culture but also because it is over-reliant for long stretches onintellectual dialogue.
Audiences areadvised to undergo a crash course in late 20th-century French politics beforetackling this subtly refined lesson in history lest they lose their way.
Spread over the last15 months of Mitterand's life, Guediguian follows a young journalist AntoineMoreau as he ceremoniously hounds the former French President towards the endof his reign. His goal is not only to reveal his subject's political mind,intellectual arsenal and Machiavellian dexterity, but also to throw light oncertain dark episodes from World War Two, including Mitterand's friendship withRene Bosquet, chief of police for the French collaborationist government andresponsible for deporting French Jews to concentration camps.
Approaching theGrand Old Man with a blend of admiration, respect, curiosity and obstinacy,Moreau allows himself to be carried away completely by his fascination with hissubject.
His obsession comesat a personal price, for the reporter is not simply satisfied with whatMitterand is willing to tell him, but wants him to concede, even express regretfor, certain episodes in his life.
But while the storyis told through Moreau's eyes he is simply the straight man to Mitterand'sincandescent personality, which emerges as warm yet moody, benevolent yetdevious and above all determined to have his way right until the end.
He is not only apolitician who has journeyed ideologically from the natural right wingenvironment of his youth to the radicalised version of socialism to the presentadvocated at the end of his life, but also one who is too acutely aware therewill be no one left after he is gone to carry on his work.
An old man whostruggles with the frailty of age while worrying how history will regard him,he is a true intellectual who often seems more at home with the likes of Camusand Balzac than his own contemporaries.
The screenplay byGilles Taurand and Geroges-Marc Benamou, working from Benamou's book, is anachievement in how it paints such a well-rounded portrait without ever alludingto either the gossip that surrounded his private life nor the politicalskirmishes with his opponents, despite the potential for both.
But The LastMitterand would be nothing were it not for the tremendous presence ofBouquet, who delivers what may well be one of the great performances of theyear. He sails through the film with such assurance that one wonders whether heis not more like Mitterand than Mitterand himself, and is ably supported withan intense performance from Lespert.
Prod cos: Film Oblige, Agat Films, ARTE France Cinema, CanalPlus, CNC
Int'l sales: Pathe Dist
Fr dist: Pathe
Prod: Frank de Wita
Scr: Gilles Taurand, Geroges-MarcBenamou, based on Benamou's book Le Dernier Mitterand
Cine: Renato Berta
Ed: Bernard Sasia
Prod. des: Michel Vandenstien
Main cast: Michel Bouquet, JalilLespert, Philippe Fretun, Anne Cantineau, Sara Grappin, Catherine Salviat, Jean-ClaudeFrissung, Philippe Lemercier and guest stars Genevieve Fasile and GiseleCasadesus