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The Very Funny The French Minister Is All Politics and Zero Ideology

Julie Gayet and Raphaël Personnaz
Julie Gayet and Raphaël Personnaz
© 2013 - Sundance Selects

Armando Iannucci’s comedies Veep and The Thick of It are all politics, zero ideology, except where someone’s ideological posture affects the ambitions of other characters. The French Minister, directed by Bertrand Tavernier, based on the graphic novel Quai d'Orsay, by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain, adopts a similar posture, focused on the survival tactics of an exhausted ministry staff against the hurricane effects of a single enormous personality: Alexandre Taillard de Worms, the French minister of foreign affairs (Thierry Lhermitte).

Seen through the perspective of new hire Arthur (Raphaël Personnaz), the silver-maned de Worms is mercurial and hugely charismatic. A speechwriter, Arthur struggles to accommodate the editorial imperatives of the entire staff and the shifting goalposts of the minister’s agenda, pleasing no one. Tavernier’s approach, unlike Iannucci’s naturalism, is gently absurdist. A running joke has de Worms erupting through doors, sending reams of A4 paper flying in his wake. He is incapable of reading any document without a highlighter, leaving every book he touches a uniform shade of neon canary. He sees himself as literary, lunching with Nobel laureates and positioning himself for his own international accolades.

The film’s world is a kind of insular fantasyland that purports a connection to ours through vague references to a slightly fictionalized war kindled by American neocons and shorthand like “the Serbian situation.” Mannered and often very funny, it’s kind of like what an Iannucci production would be if all his characters suffered from the behavioral effects of toxoplasmosis — really, really French, in other words.

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