Biopic set to anger Sarkozy (and not just for leading man's receding hairline)

Molly Guinness
Tuesday 31 August 2010 00:00
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Few would deny that Nicolas Sarkozy's political rise has been full of drama. But with his term due to expire in two years' time, the French President may not be overjoyed to learn that his career is to be made into a film about "the conquest of power" – to be released uncomfortably close to his bid for re-election.

The story of the immigrants' son who became Jacques Chirac's protégé, who went on to betray his mentor and become President of the Republic, is being filmed in Paris as La Conquête (the conquest). The first movie to examine the career of a French president while he is still in office, it will cover the years between 2002 and 2007, stopping just short of Carla Bruni and his years in the top job.

Few details have emerged from the film's production company. But according to the screenwriter Patrick Rotman, it will be a meticulously researched fiction in the Anglo-Saxon tradition.

Denis Podalydès, who is playing the lead role, has insisted that he has no axe to grind with the President. "It's a film about the conquest of power in our mediatised democracy," he told La Provence. "I will not judge or caricature Sarkozy. My job is to make him lifelike, to give him substance, to play on his contradictions."

But controversy has already been attached to Podalydès' casting. Previously acclaimed as Jean-Paul Sartre and Richard II, some say that he doesn't look mean or hungry enough to play Mr Sarkozy. And his receding hairline is unlikely to delight the famously vain President.

Indeed, the President's foibles have led some to speculate that the film is almost bound to cast him in a comical light. The President's hair-trigger temper, his high heels and a sense of latent violence seem to be the very qualities that make him a candidate for the box office.

There is little doubt that the period before his premiership contains plenty of material for a movie. His relationships with his first wife, Cécilia, and with his former mentor Mr Chirac were famously explosive. Cécilia guided her frenetic husband through periodical depressions, but although she had her office in the ministry of the interior when he was minister there, the marriage degenerated. By 2007, the couple were on such bad terms that she didn't even vote for her husband.

Mr Chirac, meanwhile, may be portrayed as a discarded father figure. He treated Mr Sarkozy like a son, but later Mr Sarkozy rallied support by making unkind remarks about Mr Chirac. "From a cinematic point of view, he stabbed his father," says Dr Sudhir Hazareesingh, an expert in French politics.

But, Mr Hazareesingh warned, the film-makers should be aware of the risks their project entails – especially when Mr Sarkozy's approval ratings are hovering around 30 per cent. "He's incredibly petty and vindictive," he said. "It will be interesting to see how far the filmmakers are prepared to go."

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