Léa Seydoux in an uneven media satire – .

Léa Seydoux in an uneven media satire – .

Léa Seydoux in France

Lea Seydoux in France
photo: Lorber Cinema

Once upon a time, French director Bruno Dumont was known to arthouse audiences as the poker-faced provocateur behind Twenty-nine palm trees and winner of the Cannes Grand Prix Humanity. Then came the Small Town Mystery Miniseries P’tit Quinquin, revealing an unprecedented facet of the filmmaker: Dumont the goofball. Embracing self-parody without betraying the central themes of his previous films, his later projects took his austere style in an absurd direction, with results ranging from Python (Very Slack) to the bizarre (Jeannette: The Childhood of Joan of Arc).

Even if it’s less surreal than these offbeat works, Dumont’s latest, France, also seems designed to exasperate. Both media satire and 1950s melodrama, it focuses on France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux), the host of a French news program called A view of the world. She is featured, along with her crass joke producer and confidante Lou (Blanche Gardin), as she follows a busy route through Paris, from a press conference at the TV studio to the lavish apartment she shares. with its less famous. novelist husband, Fred (Benjamin Biolay).

Everywhere she goes, strangers ask for autographs and selfies. For Dumont, she is a concentrate of media celebrity and perhaps a symbol of national superficiality, at least when it comes to French domestic debates and involvement in world affairs. In a clever first sequence, Dumont shows France filming an interview in a war zone, recording repeat questions and leading soldiers as extras; later we are shown the perfectly cut result. The point is about as subtle as the protagonist’s name: News is show business, and journalism, by extension, is a form of acting. Whether she is reporting on ruins with a combat helmet and bulletproof vest or leading a debate between political experts, France is a star.

This is all changed by a minor accident. While dropping her son off at school, France collides with a young man named Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar) in her car, knocks him off his scooter and luxates his kneecap. Under the watchful eye of the tabloids, she visits him in the hospital and befriends his parents. Is she really worried, or is this just a staged act for the paparazzi following her every move? Soon she begins to suffer from crying spells on camera and in public. Is that also part of the act? And if so, who is she playing for?

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Dumont’s theme remains, as always, the struggle for sincerity. Its main structural idea in France is to build the film around the protagonist’s ambiguous and impenetrable relationship with the camera, often putting Seydoux at a standstill in the frame. Our attention is constantly drawn to her costumes, pose and screen presence; the compositions could beatify its glamorous balance or poke fun at its falsehood. The distancing effects add to an already artificial atmosphere; the most striking is the deliberately unconvincing rear projection. (At one point, there’s even a cut in the background footage as the characters are driven around Paris.)

That this is reminiscent of an earlier era of cinema does not seem to be coincidence. Sinking into an existential crisis, France leaves behind her career and retires to a ski resort, and France briefly turns into Dumont’s version of a Douglas Sirk romance, minus Sirk’s sublimely detailed staging. From there, the film takes exaggerated turns, including a second fatal car crash which is one of the most comically exaggerated portrayals of auto tragedy in contemporary cinema. The streak is unmistakably funny, but while Dumont has proven in recent years that he has an irreverent sense of humor, you never really know if it’s supposed to be — or why.

that we should ask ourselves FranceThe sincerity of just as we question the main character is perhaps the point Dumont is trying to make – something about how the modern media landscape makes everything possible for directing. But the cinema (which is, among other things, too long) never fits completely. The satire of fake media and facades is broad and repetitive. The drama is intentionally cryptic and distant. Dumont doesn’t make satisfying films in the conventional way, and for all of his visual minimalism, he likes clutter. But he is more than capable of making captivating films beyond the purely intellectual level. France, for the most part, is not one of them.


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