The new film from main-stay of the French cinema, Bertrand Tavernier (In The Electric Mist, Round Midnight), The French Minister is a political satire following a young man, Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz) who has just been hired as the “head of language” (effectively making him the speech writer) for the French foreign minister Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry Lhermitte), who is charismatic and well-meaning, but ultimately a dullard. The film concerns itself with Arthur’s day to day struggles as he navigates the turbulent world of politics and office life.
As a comedy, The French Minister has its moments. The general idea works well and is mostly well executed by Tavernier, the writers Christophe Blain & Abel Lanzac, and the dedicated cast. The problem is that it doesn’t feel particularly fresh and we’ve seen this kind of parody done before – and better. Dating the film during the Bush regime (which although not clearly stated will be evident to anyone who lived through those years) and modelling the minister on Bush himself, also helps little, particularly because as a parody it’s at least ten years too late.
These issues aside, the film works well enough. As the titular character, Lhermitte is perfect as the smarmy moron who uses buzz words and talks with ridiculous rhetoric to conceal a complete inadequacy for his position. Niels Arestrup as his senior guide, who actually runs the office from behind the scenes, is also perfect as an aging veteran who can barely keep from falling asleep while his boss spouts his drivel. Personnaz as the rookie on their team does well in the less rewarding role, effectively playing the straight man to the shenanigans going on around him.
If the film doesn’t always entirely work, it is perhaps worth seeing for one scene. In a particular moment of heated suspense, the Minister is distracted by the issue at hand (as seems to be the case throughout the film) and goes on a rant explaining his approach to the art of highlighting and being able to remember if a book is any good by how much of it he’s highlighted. Description of it can’t do any justice, but suffice to say the line “Do you know how I know a book’s any good?” will, with any justice, be remembered as one of the great film quotes from French cinema.
Despite its flaws, The French Minister is an amusing enough comedy that won’t have you rolling in stitches through the aisles, but it’s a pleasant enough way to spend an hour and a half of your movie watching time.
The French Minister is in selected Australian cinemas from 17 July through Curious Film.