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The Conquest - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Conquest
Directing: C-
Acting: B-
Writing: C+
Cinematography: B
Editing: B-

The Conquest begins with a title card assertion that although based on real people, "this is a work of fiction." Anyone with even nearly zero knowledge of French president Nicolas Sarkozy -- and that would include me -- would easily pick up on that, even without the unneeded clarification. Nearly every scene is staged badly enough to look staged; hence, it never quite rings true. How could anyone watch this and mistake it for something that really happened? Even the extras are distracting: they look like extras.

This movie is getting fairly well-reviewed by critics, which mystifies me. Political films can be filled with drama and intrigue; this one elicits yawns and indifference -- sometimes outright irritation. In spite of it ostensibly being fiction, the script uses all real names, and depicts Sarkozy's rice to power and concurrent unraveling of his marriage. Denis Podalydès, as Sarkozy, is clearly doing a conscientious impersonation of the man's wiry fidgetiness, but he exaggerates it to the point that you wonder if he used Rain Man as a model.

Florence Pernel plays his wife, Cécilia, with an emotional turmoil with a basis never revealed in the film. The "present day" is election day, 2007, when Sarkozy became president. We see brief snippets of this day throughout the film, usually involving Nicolas begging Cécilia on the phone to vote with him publicly, and the vast majority of the film is in flashbacks. There's a vague sense that Cécilia's problem is that his devotion to campaigning is too much for her, but we never witness a clear turning point in their relationship. Maybe this is shorthand for French audiences with a broader understanding and memory of these public figures, but what reason is there for American audiences to care?

The same can be said of Nicolas Sarkozy's relationship with his French citizen supporters, who are seen as crazy about him. But The Conquest, with all its attention to Sarkozy's naked ambition, shows nothing to indicate why this guy, who was evidently kind of an asshole, should be so widely supported. Even a short scene in which he visits some blue-collar factory workers to court the lower-income vote comes across as a calculated political maneuver that the people he's speaking to see through. Maybe writer-director Xavier Durringer just doesn't like him very much. Even if that's the case, the man clearly had broad support, and a film like this should provide some inkling as to how he got it.

The Conquest lacks anything even remotely resembling insight, into the man himself, or the political process -- in France or anywhere else. Worse yet, it constantly comes across as amateurish, half-assed in its staging. It seems to want to sweet the audience up in Sarkozy's political momentum, but without offering any richness in its detail. It's just a guy, depicted rather like a weasel, grabbing power by whatever means possible -- at the expense of a marriage that we never come to understand as anything momentous to begin with. We see much more of all the standard political tactics and backstabbing than we do of the relationship that's clearly intended as the framework of the story. If Nicolas Sarkozy is as fascinating a man as most reports would suggest, this movie, and the actor who portrays him, do nothing to illustrate it.

Denis Podalydès and Florence Pernel phone in THE CONQUEST.

Overall: C
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