Monday, January 9, 2012

The Conquest (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway

The Conquest

The poster for  Xavier Durringer's "The Conquest" looks a bit like the poster for Quentin Tarrantino's "Reservoir Dogs". This is no coincidence. "The Conquest" is the most clinically carnivorous and slyly  told political biopic that I have seen in years.  It chronicles Nicolas Sarkozy's rise to prominence. If you like your political biopics with a scaly, jittery edge, then this film is a must.  

Not since "The Ides of March" have I seen such a soft shoe with a sinister beat.
In contrast to the above-mentioned film however,  "The Conquest" has a breezy theatrical flair that is more reptilian than "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas", yet more detached and paranoid than Martin Scorsese's "GoodFellas" (1990). No one is likable in this film and that is the point. Politics, no matter the nationality is a toxic swamp  of veneer and subterfuge. Words and intent shift about like a malleable plastic. All is gained by posture and glare. Politics is a Pop Art strategy game and a charade  of sincere faces.

Denis Podalydes plays Nicolas Sarkozy as a head-bobbing and ill-tempered shifty wise guy with a penchant for chocolate and hazelnuts. Sarkozy  carries his cellphone like a scimitar and stabs the air. He moves from marbled hallway to hallway like a guilt-ridden chess piece, perpetually looking over his shoulder, as if pursued. Perhaps. Or more to the point to see who might be mocking him over his shortness. Sarkozy's rivals call him a right wing "runt" behind his back. 

Short Sarkozy may be, but he has the chimerical ability to uncoil and move his body about like the pop star Johnny Hallyday. Perhaps there is something Shakespearean here: the marginalized one, driven by ambition who tries to reach his  star in both the bedroom and the political media. While underneath, of course, a bruised ego respirates like a second skin. 
We also see Cecilia Sarkozy (Florence Pernel). She is melancholic and eaten up, her face is a triangle of tension. No love lost here. Cecilia might as well be a stranger to the box shouldered Nicolas. There is a deliberate nudge of Lars von Trier in her character as her face is chalk white, her hair off-brown and stringy like faded bark.

Also worth mentioning is  Samuel Labarthe as Sarcozy's rival Dominique de Villepin. Villepin is half hyped up android and half Sean Connery wannabe, slinking behind Sarcozy's back under the guise of a sycophantic spaceman. With his silver-white parchment pallor he also looks a touch like Warhol.  Villepin seeks the dayglo silkscreen of political coverage as much as anyone else. 

Although in content, "The Conquest" does not reveal anything new, but  the eerie lingering drift of the camera offers a treading haunt of existentialism and comic chiaroscuro that echoes the films of Peter Greenaway. Picture a haunted man who looks a little like Joe Pesci, slipping behind a political red curtain that once contained the shape of a woman in the act of running away and you've got your film. 

Write Ian at

No comments: