"The Conquest" is true anomaly in cinema. Director Xavier Durringer's solely-devoted character study of Nicolas Sarkozy, during his rise to the seat of France's President, makes up for what it lacks in narrative structure with flabbergasting set pieces that reveal a wildly ambitious, irrationally irreverent, and appropriately cold blooded political animal. Denis Podalydès gives a high-wire performance as Nicolas Sarkozy that is mesmerizing to behold. Not only is his body type and stature equal to Sarkozy, but Podalydès enacts every identical gesture and behavioral tic with total empathy.
Designed as a crash course in the landscape of modern French politics, the film builds on dialogue-heavy scenes anchored in their intrinsic theatricality. Durringer, and co-writer-historian Patrick Rotman, make Sarkozy's dependent-but-tenuous relationship with his work-partner wife Cecilla (Florence Pernel) the narrative hub from which all action follows. Florence Pernel more than exemplifies the de facto protagonist role of the offended wife who loses all emotional connection, if not a last ounce of respect, for the husband she helped guide to his place as the leader of France. Clearly, in the context of the story, Nicolas Sarkozy is the film's counter-intuitive antagonist.
Bernard Le Coq plays a significant role as President Jacques Chirac, who underestimates his calculating rival during every step of his Sarkozy's rise to political power. Also crucial to the film's success is Samuel Labarthe's spot-on portrayal of Dominique de Villepin, Prime Minister of France during the time span covered in the story leading up to Nicolas Sarkozy's acceptance speech in 2007. While “The Conquest” periodically glosses over the substance of important events it alludes to, it is a fascinating look at how similar the French political system has become to America’s flagrantly corrupt methods of “Democracy.”
If, as the film states, "politics is a stupid job done by intelligent people," then you have to wonder at the intellectual of the corporate heads who call the shots for every political functionary the world over.
Not Rated. 105 mins. (B+) (Four Stars - out of five/no halves)
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