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The Last Mitterrand

April 27, 2013

The Last Mitterrand (2005)
Director: Robert Guédiguian
Actors: Michel Bouquet, Jalil Lespert, Sarah Grappin


Synopsis: Antoine (Jalil Lespert) is a young journalist shadowing French President, François Mitterrand (Michel Bouquet), in his last few months in office, to write his memoirs.

Review: This acute little chamber piece about the final few months of François Mitterrand’s time in office (and in essence, his life, as he was slowly dying from prostate cancer), is a fascinating, thought-provoking film which will be of interest to not only those who knew something about Mitterrand’s political career, but also those partial to sage, wintry cinematic portraits.

In many respects, if you take away the specific privilege of this man’s status and the concern over his political ‘legacy’, The Last Mitterrand has more worth as an over-arching essay on old age, the failures of the flesh, and an acceptance of one’s own mortality. Although the film necessarily is quite wordy, Robert Guédiguian does enough to draw out pictorally some of these themes. There’s an ingenious scene on a train where Mitterrand offers a paean to France by making the seemingly back-handed, but actually quite intuitive, remark that the country speaks to him of the colour “grey”. There’s a nice sequence where Mitterrand and his ghost-writer, Antoine, walk and talk on a bleak looking northern French beach, and a more touching scene where the true fragility of Mitterrand’s body is revealed when he’s found freezing and ailing in his bath.

The tagging on of a political dimension (the subplot over whether Mitterrand should feel any shame or guilt over his murky associations to the wartime Vichy government) is slightly less engaging, and the plot-hook of the cipher-like young journalist undergoing his own personal crisis alongside his meetings with Mitterrand, is a touch hackneyed. That aside, this is a cracking film which plays out its ideas at the highest pitch of intelligence. (April 2013)

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