Mitterrand’s Final Days
|Michel Bouquet and Jalil Lespert in Le Promeneur du Champ-de-Mars. Photo © FILM OBLIGE Eric Moulin
The hot topic in France this past week has been the new film on the last days of former Socialist President François Mitterrand, Le Promeneur du Champ-de-Mars, directed by Robert Guédiguian and based on the book Le Dernier Mitterrand by Georges-Marc Benamou. The film is something of a first here – a fictional look at a contemporary political leader. The respected 79-year-old actor Michel Bouquet has been universally hailed for his portrayal of the kingly president who brought the Socialist Party to power for 14 years (1981-95). Mitterrand left few people indifferent in France – a respected intellectual, he was admired by the intelligentsia, loved by many leftists and despised by the right. He was also a consummate politician who was not above lying to preserve his position. Although he knew he had prostate cancer and a short life expectancy at the beginning of his first term in office, he never told the public and held on to serve out his two terms in office. Shortly before his death in January 1996, the existence of a long-term mistress and a teenage daughter, Mazarine Pingeot, was revealed in the press, which had known about them all along but dared not reveal their existence because of France’s strict privacy laws and for fear of retribution from the president. A man who did not tolerate opposition lightly, Mitterrand went so far as to order illegal wiretapping of his perceived enemies. Even the actress Carole Bouquet’s phone was tapped, for reasons that are not entirely clear. And, in an issue treated in the new film, he never really came clean about his participation in the collaborationist Vichy government during World War II before he switched sides and joined the Resistance. This interesting but not wholly successful film carefully treads a middle ground, honoring Mitterrand while adding a little criticism for form’s sake. We see the dying president through the eyes of a young journalist hired to help him write his memoirs, a rather uninteresting device that does, however, provide some relief from the president’s near-monologue. In the end, we are left with an impression of Mitterrand as a crafty yet lovable old politician, a survivor who has trumped his enemies by hanging on to the bitter end. We are also left with the strong feeling that there is a lot more to learn about this complex, fascinating man who successfully retained his aura of mystery. Stayed tuned for his daughter Mazarine’s soon-to-be-published book about him.
© 2005 Paris Update
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