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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Bruno Dumont’s France is an interesting send-up of a fame-obsessed culture: Express at TIFF

Fronted by Léa Seydoux, French director Dumont zooms in on his country’s media.

Written by Shubhra Gupta |
September 19, 2021 6:30:46 am
Some situations in the film make you fear for France.

The protagonist in Bruno Dumont’s France is a glamorous TV anchor-cum-intrepid reporter called France de Meurs, who knows exactly how to become the story rather than just report it. Léa Seydoux inhabits the character with great verve and conviction, always ready for action in her swish designer outfits and killer heels, brandishing her blinding lipstick as a weapon, and making France one of the most interesting films at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF).

Right at the start we see France attending an important press conference. She is accompanied by her assistant Lou (Blanche Gardin) who seems to be at hand solely to give her (France) encouraging looks and an approving thumbs up. It’s obvious France is not a rookie. So, why does she feel the need for her assistant to stand by? The exchange of these glances, which have more weight than the event France is covering, feels like a parody, and you very quickly realise that that’s exactly what it is: having set the tone, the film gets busy sending up fame, and our fame-obsessed culture, filtered and mediated through dodgy ethics and too-ambitious practitioners.

All around us we are seeing the impact of this mad obsession with celebrities. It’s crucial to have a zillion Instagram followers. The gram rules, but other social media platforms are not far behind. Twitter needs to explode when a person famous for being famous says or does something either inadvertently, or on instructions from their public relations team, whose sole job is to keep their client “out there”. Either you are an influencer, or you’re nothing.

Some situations in the film make you fear for France. She interviews a gun-toting “terrorist” and asks him to pose, while she records her questions against a “better” background. In another instance, we see her dodging bullets and running helter-skelter with her cameraman and interpreter. And there she is in a bobbing boat, chatting up fleeing refugees, the blue Mediterranean behind her. Where are these people from? Are they for real? Is this a “manufactured war”, created to win the race for TRPs, and populist votes? These questions have strong resonance.

France has a husband she can’t stand. And a young son she is unable to deal with. She lives in a home that feels like a museum, with gigantic paintings adorning the walls and heavy drapes masking the windows. The pressure of being on top and staying there tells on her; a terrible accident leaves her devastated, but stalking fans still ask for selfies.

There are many rather obvious flourishes in this biting satire. Some of what France says and does makes you roll your eyes. But at no point does she appear fake, even when you can see she is faking it. “Things last 24 hours now,” says the helpful Lou, “24 hours later, it will be a memory. It’s how TV works. The worst is the best.” So true. Fame is transient. Nothing lasts forever.

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