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The last Mitterrand (Le promeneur du Champs de Mars)

By Patricia Connell

The last Mitterrand
(Le promeneur du Champ de Mars)
Released on 29th July 2005

Robert Guédiguian | France 2005 | 1h56m | 35mm | French with English subtitles | PG
Cast: Michel Bouquet, Jalil Lespert, Philippe Fretun, Anne Cantineau.

In 1995, during his second 7-year term in office, Mitterrand (Michel Bouquet) is dying of prostate cancer. He has asked, Antoine Moreau (Jalil Lespert), a young journalist to write his memoirs. But is the version of events that Mitterrand tells his biographer true or is it what he wants the world to believe? Antoine, repeatedly, tries to get to the bottom of certain issues contacting and visiting people who came in contact with Mitterrand over the years.

The story, although fictive, and based on a book written by Georges-Marc Benamou, also includes historical facts and leads to questions being asked about history, politics, socialism, illness, eternity. The script is so powerful that the ideas seem to flow naturally from the conversations that the two men are having. Conversations that are more like long monologues. At times, it feels like a speech written by Mitterrand himself. After all, whatever your political views, it is hard not to accept that Mitterrand was a wonderfully articulate speaker and writer. The script really does him justice.

Michel Bouquet is an amazing Mitterrand. He has beautifully succeeded in transforming himself into the President, down to the smallest details; in fact to such an extent that his likeness is almost eerie. But this is not just a film about Mitterrand the man. It is about what Mitterrand represented in politicaly. This is the man who took part in pro-fascist rallies in the 30s, who started his political career in the Vichy government, who became later a political ally of De Gaulle and then turned into his adversary for the Presidency, and who finally got elected in 1981 because he had managed to re-unify the left. His story is the political journey of France.

In the film, Mitterrand is portrayed as someone with great charisma who manages to charm everyone around him. This is what happens to Antoine who slowly becomes totally unable to distance himself from him. Mitterrand is shown as someone who can be both very cruel and very generous, someone incredibly cultured and refined, who can quote poets and authors as a matter of course, but also as a simple man who is suffering enormously due to his illness.

One of my favourite seen in the film is probably when Mitterrand, Le promeneur du Champ de Mars, having just stepped down as President, is walking in the park, wondering if he will still be remembered. At that very moment, a young girl, asks to kiss him and thanks him for ‘everything’ he has done. When she has left, he turns to Antoine and says that he would have liked to have asked her what ‘everything’ entailed but that it would have been too an embarrassing question for such a young girl who was probably a few years old when he first became President.

Even though I was never a Mitterrand supporter, I truly enjoyed the film and I don’t think that you need to know much about Mitterrand or French political history to appreciate a good film. A welcome first film by Robert Guediguian, this is an accomplished and subtle portrait of a shrewd, infuriating, yet lovable politician who deliberately leaves gaps in his legacy.

A thought-provoking must see. 


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