Review by Sean Boelman
Bruno Dumont is definitely a very divisive filmmaker, and his newest film, the media satire France, is likely to be his most polarizing yet. And while the first two acts of the movie are rather hit-or-miss, a strong ending brings everything together in a way that is unexpectedly compelling and approachable.
The film tells the story of a celebrity journalist whose life begins to unravel in a chain reaction beginning with her perpetrating a car accident. It’s the type of movie that, for a majority of the runtime, purposefully tries to make the audience feel distant from the characters and their story and then brings their entire world crashing down around them in a blaze of glory.
For the first hour and a half, the film is a darkly satirical look at the media world, and then it becomes a more intimate character drama. It’s an interesting move, making the audience hate the protagonist before allowing them to identify with her for a crushing finale. But the result ends up being a bit of a mixed message which is frustratingly ambiguous.
This first portion of the movie can definitely get very grating at times, watching people you hate doing things you hate over and over again. The film is over two hours in length, and the character’s arc doesn’t really even start until two-thirds of the way through, and while it recovers strongly, it takes perhaps a bit too long to get there to fully work.
One of the more surprising things about the movie is that it doesn’t pack as much political bite as one would expect. In an early scene in the film, there is a press conference in which the protagonist ridicules a politician at a press conference, and the rest of the movie struggles to match this. There are a couple hard-hitting moments throughout, but they come and go.
This film is definitely a showcase for the acting talents of Léa Seydoux, who virtually carries the movie on her own. Her performance is one of the only things in the film that even resembles nuance. She prevents the protagonist from feeling like a mere caricature, especially in the first half of the movie which is a bit heavier on the humor.
From a technical level, the film isn’t particularly convincing. The thing with satirizing something as widely visible as celebrity journalism is that there is a clear template for it to follow, and breaking that can make a movie look like a cheap knock-off. Apart from one brilliantly-executed sequence, this film fails in making the viewer feel immersed in this world.
Had the first hour and a half of France been as strong as the final act, it could have been one of the best satires of the year. Instead, it’s a somewhat underdeveloped dark comedy that has a few glimpses of brilliance.
France is now playing in theaters.