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'France' can be funny, but provides a tough portrait of the world

Nicholas Kemp
Kino Lorber Team

The film France from French director Bruno Dumont looks at a fictional television star named France de Meurs as her outsized celebrity rises and falls and rises again. KUNC film critic Howie Movshovitz says while the movie can be funny, it also gives a tough portrait of the world.

France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux) is a hotshot TV personality. She wears loud clothing and struts around Paris like she owns the place. At a large public meeting, she puts a government minister on the spot, while her assistant Lou mocks the guy from the back of the room, and afterwards the pair of them chortle at how France has lit up the Internet.

In a flash, France is in Africa to interview an anti-ISIS fighter, and she has the nerve to direct him, snapping her fingers, to set up the shots she wants for her broadcast.

She shows a man how to hold his rifle. It’s okay; even these tribesmen want selfies with France. She’s considered a journalist, but her talk and her images are mostly about herself. It’s a good send-up of the creepy self-promotion of celebrity journalism.

Then, while driving, she’s distracted for just a moment. France bumps into a young man on his motorbike. It’s a minor collision, but the man’s kneecap is dislocated. He’ll get better, but the result for France is more serious. Her fragile façade begins to crumble.

She cries in an interview. People start to ask questions that cut to the quick of the image she has created of herself: is she right-wing or left-wing, a question she can’t answer because she doesn’t know. The incessant rudeness of fans who want selfies starts to bug her. Slowly, her clothing changes — the showy dresses and tight skirts become pants and plain sweaters. Her trademark flaming red lipstick tones down. She winds up in a hospital in the mountains. It’s a beautiful winter; she feels liberated, and out of the blue she’s betrayed brutally — by another self-serving journalist.

As writer/director Bruno Dumont sees it, this is the world we all live in. It moves so fast and the colors are so bright and distracting that there’s neither space nor time for human beings to situate themselves or to know who they are. The character isn’t named France for nothing — she’s the entire country and by extension the entire world. Everyone she meets, from those tribal fighters in Niger to fellow patients at the expensive hospital in the Alps wants to be part of France’s glitz.

Nicholas Kemp
Kino Lorber Team

It isn’t just journalists who — in ideal circumstances — try to find the truth of events. All of us want to know who we are and where we are. But this picture of our world shows how that level of self-understanding has grown impossible. Everything is posturing. France’s assistant Lou (Blanche Gardin) spends her life pumping France up, assuring her that she’s done a great job. But it’s not whether France uncovers important information or insight; it’s whether France looks good, and that she scores points.

A privileged, self-satisfied man at an evening affair says that capitalism is the gift of oneself to others, striving for virtues both moral and spiritual. Whatever you think of capitalism, it ain’t what this fool says, and the moment comes after France’s accident, when she’s getting inklings that all is not right in her life. The comment drives her right out of the room.

Léa Seydoux is wonderful in this film. She has the complexity to register incremental shifts as France’s brittle exterior begins to crack, and at the same time to allow tiny hints of genuine feeling to emerge.

The movie France does not move in a simplified, certain direction. It wanders around unevenly because the progress of one person from sterile emptiness to finding some measure of humanity in herself is not consistent. The ambiguity of the movie is contained in the name France de Meurs — it can mean something like “France dies” or “France remains as she is.” Both the character and her world. The movie has a lot of nerve to embody the two possibilities.

Howie Movshovitz came to Colorado in 1966 as a VISTA Volunteer and never wanted to leave. After three years in VISTA, he went to graduate school at CU-Boulder and got a PhD in English, focusing on the literature of the Middle Ages. In the middle of that process, though (and he still loves that literature) he got sidetracked into movies, made three shorts, started writing film criticism and wound up teaching film at the University of Colorado-Denver. He continues to teach in UCD’s College of Arts & Media.
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