Michel Bouquetshows Mitterrand by turns charming, impatient, stubborn, impeccably mannered, crude, dismissive and regal. Mitterrand was a polymath, with a prodigious memory, a highly developed appreciation of style and beauty and an advanced sense of what was proper. He could be spectacularly rude, not to say cruel to those closest to him. He could be manipulative and disingenuous. The extent to which his personal conduct, his amorality and extravagant tastes, clashed with his socialist ideals can't be exaggerated.
The book derives from dozens of one-on-one interviews that Mitterrand granted over his last months. His wife, Danielle, is almost entirely absent. His illegitimate daughter, Mazarine, whose existence had become public only shortly before Benamou began his interviews, thanks to a calculated leak to the magazine Paris Match, is a fleeting offstage presence.
The action, such as it is, is a repeating duel of words, authority and personality between the journalist and the president. Benamou tries to reconcile third-party accounts of Mitterrand's war-time activity with the politician's own version. Was he complicit in acts of persecution against French Jews?
In France, this evocative film fuelled a sense of nostalgia for Mitterrand and his 14-year presidency. It also recalled the glory days of the French socialist party. At one point, Mitterrand reflects that he will be seen as "the last true president of France". After me, he says, there will be only technocrats, only Europe. In a way, he was right.
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