First, American viewers might not have the same reaction as the European critics. Being less familiar with the figures being caricatured probably
helps. Americans are less likely to feel hostage to what one French reviewer described wearily as
"the only question [the film] raises" in its viewers: Do these characters resemble their real-life counterparts? In fact, those unfamiliar with French
politics may even find the film informative.
The second reason to see the film is the same reason many French critics, even while unconvinced of its artistic value, decided it was worth the trip:
French cinema simply hasn't produced anything like this before. Now that the taboo has been broken, even the critical Régnier points out, "it
potentially opens up a new genre and, who knows, [perhaps] more successful films." La Conqête, her fellow Le Monde critic Thomas
Sotinel explains, busts the field wide open by treading on what, in France, is the "sacrosanct private domain of political men."
But La Conquête wasn't alone this year in venturing into politics. There was also Alain Cavalier's Pater, garnering better
reviews for its more reflective and thought-provoking, if also less politically flashy, look at the relationship of an older president and a younger
prime minister. The director told The New York Times he "borrowed a
few things from [former French president François] Mitterrand and transformed them." But perhaps the moment of greater resonance for French
audiences was unintentional—what Libération reviewer Olivier Séguret called an "involuntary allusion to the DSK case" when the
prime minister is offered a "compromising photo" of his competitor (the DSK affair was widely seen in France as a deliberate attempt to discredit the
presumptive socialist candidate for president).
Jean-Luc Wachthausen at French publication Le Figaro thus
last month that 2011, which also saw some "telefilms" on Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou, "will have been a hinge year for French cinema." These
movies have made a foray into "a genre one thought reserved to Brits and Americans," and Wachthausen points out that one would have "to go back to the
1970s to Yves Boisset (L'Attentat and R.A.S.), Costa-Gavras (Z et L'Aveu)" to see the last time French cinema
became so interested in politics.
But it's not just that the films deal with political plot lines. It's also that they question these plot lines. In fact, in the enthusiasm of some of
the French reviewers, "Brits and Americans" might gain extra appreciation for their film traditions. French film, Wachsthausen continues, has a long
way to go "before attaining the temerity, insolence, and the complex-free approach of the Anglo-Saxon directors. We are far from the devastating style
of a film like In the Loop ... or the biting style of Stephen Frears in The Queen." Illuminatingly, he continues: "Even American
directors, from David Griffith and John Ford to Oliver Stone, have never failed to interrogate the principals of democracy, the drifting of their
political system or the failings of their presidents. ... French filmmakers could be inspired."