Sentimental drama meets political backstage in The Conquest
by Fabien Lemercier
Anticipated with impatience, or simple curiosity, at the Cannes Film Festival, where it was presented today out of competition, the film (a fictionalised account of real events, as it prudently announced at the onset) on the presidential campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy, ironically lacks great surprises, as is a far cry from, say, the BBC’s productions. As if Sarkozy’s style were already a given, as well as the narrative angle, which blends the melodrama of a marital break-up with political behind-the-scenes maneuvering.
Nevertheless, it’s not a total waste, on the contrary, especially thanks to great performances, a feverish rhythm, the verve of its caricatures and an escalation of great dialogue and confrontations that put together the pieces of the puzzle that is the period from 2002 to 2007 in France.
A desecrating work on France’s top political spheres, The Conquest begins the morning of the 2007 presidential elections with Nicolas Sarkozy (a masterful Denis Podalydès), in a bathrobe, slumped in an armchair, a golden chain around his neck, surfing the TV. Spliced with moments from that day, the film then flashes back to 2002.
Relegated to the post of Minister of the Interior for Jacques Chirac (Bernard Lecoq) when he fresh off his re-election, Sarkozy announces his intentions to his team: "We will launch eight new ideas at the same time, they won’t know what hit them".
"You have to wear out the media", says Sarkozy’s wife Cécilia (Florence Pernel), raising the stakes. Which sets the tone for years of preparatory meetings, promotions and speeches.
In a political world characterized by malice of all types and veiled, subtly hypocritical threats, attacks and counter-attacks reign. From the revolts in the banlieue to becoming head of the party, including the Clearstream case and the electoral campaign, the period between 2002 to 2007 is depicted as a duel to the death between Sarkozy and Villepin (who is not spared in the film), with the media playing the role of a manipulated echo chamber.
Giving ample room to sentiment with the break-up of Sarkozy’s marriage to a woman soon relegated to the background, tired of the media’s omnipresence, who leaves her husband to then get back together with him at the end of his campaign, The Conquest makes a very prudent choice, given that those events were already widely reported in the media. But its pointed satirical vein will certainly draw French and international audiences.
Meanwhile, Gaumont has also sold the film to numerous territories, including the US, Spain, Benelux, Greece, Switzerland, Israel and Canada.
(Translated from French)