Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
The French Minister: Old Europe Quotes Heraclitus
the days leading up to the Iraq War, Jacques Chirac strained French relations with
the new democracies of Eastern Europe by condescendingly declaring they “missed
a golden opportunity to shut up.” After the fall of Saddam Hussein, several
French officials, such as the former UN ambassador Jean-Bernard Mérimée were
implicated in the Oil-for-Food scandal. However, no such troubling details will
intrude on the self-aggrandizement of France’s political class in The French Minister (trailer here), a rare misfire
from Bertrand Tavernier that opens this Friday at the IFC Center.
Alexandre Taillard de Worms is a “conservative,” but his contempt for America
is so great, he has no problem hiring a young lefty like Arthur Vlaminck to be
his new speech-writer. It is hard to write for the eccentric minister, but a
couple of quotes from Heraclitus usually placates him. Essentially, the Taillard
doctrine boils down to this: French intervention in its former African colonies
is good, but American intervention in the thinly fictionalized Lousdemistan is
Taillard often acts like a pompous buffoon, especially during a lunch with an
American Nobel Prize winning novelist (supposedly based on a real life incident
still remembered in hushed tones around the Quai d’Orsay), French Minister has all the satirical bite of a retirement roast. That
old Taillard might be nuts Tavernier and his co-writers Antonin Baudry and
Christophe Blain tell us, but he is crazy like a fox. As for any soul searching
regarding French colonialism, Oil-for-Food, or France’s grand ambition to subordinate
EU policy making to its own ends, do not hold your breath.
if you agree with the film’s extreme Chirackian-Gallic perspective, it is still
difficult to watch Thierry Lhermitte’s ridiculously over the top turn as Taillard.
You will see less shtick in an average Pauly Shore film. On the other hand,
Raphaël Personnaz’s vanilla Vlaminck does nothing more than applaud his boss’s
dramatic outbursts like a trained seal. The only measure of redemption comes
from the unflaggingly reliable Niels Arestrup, who plays veteran civil servant
Claude Maupas like a sly, understated cousin to Nigel Hawthorne’s Sir Humphrey
in Yes Minister.
Bertrand Tavernier has made some great films,
including one of the all time great jazz movies, Round Midnight, as well as the elegantly tragic historical, The Princess of Montpensier. This is not
anywhere close to their league. Frankly, Pierre Schöller’s similarly titled The Minster brings far more wit and
insight to bear on French politics, but frustratingly, it has yet to find an
American distributor. Smugly self-satisfied and self-congratulatory, The French Minister desperately wants to
soak up the adulation it hasn’t earned. Not recommended, it opens this Friday
(3/21) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Bertrand Tavernier, French Cinema