Sarkozy biopic drags dirty French politics to Cannes

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The dirty world of French politics was dragged up the Cannes red carpet Wednesday with "The Conquest," the much-anticipated tale of Nicolas Sarkozy's rise to power.

The press packed out the main theatre at Cannes to view the film, showing out of competition, after months of speculation about what would be revealed in "the story of a man who conquers power and loses his wife," Cecilia.

Directed by Xavier Durringer, the film begins by saying it is "a work of fiction based on real people", eliciting laughter from the audience in a country that has surprisingly never made a film about a serving head of state.

"The Conquest" goes one step further, using the protagonists' real names and where possible the exact dialogue as it happened at the time.

The fairground music running through the film matches the hectic pace of the hyperactive Sarkozy running around with his advisors, eliminating all who would stand in his path ahead of the 2007 presidential vote he went on to win.

"I have to keep moving so I'm not a target," says Sarkozy, played nervous tics and all by Denis Podalydes as he engages in high-stakes political manoeuvring against the clan of his predecessor Jacques Chirac.

While revealing a human side to the right-wing leader as his marriage breaks down, there are few scoops: Cecilia has an affair, Sarkozy's fierce rival Dominique de Villepin calls him a dwarf, and French journalists are cowards.

Chirac, played as a cross between Steven Seagal and the Godfather by Bernard Le Coq, says the short-statured Sarkozy will never be president as "he stopped growing too soon" and Cecilia complains their life has become a reality show.

One possible revelation shows Sarkozy constantly eating chocolates and sweets, and the aristocratic de Villepin is shown swearing like a fishwife.

Another moment of insight has particular pertinence following the arrest in New York on attempted rape charges of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the Socialist who had been expected to stand against Sarkozy in next year's presidential.

"You know, we politicians are all sexual powerhouses," a sleazy-looking Sarkozy tells two female journalists after Cecilia leaves him for the first time.

"The Conquest" is being released with Sarkozy's approval ratings at rock bottom but with the race for the 2012 presidential election shaken up by Strauss-Kahn's arrest.

Sarkozy, since remarried to former model Carla Bruni, is expected to stand again, but it is unclear what effect, if any, the film will have on his chances. He has already said he will not be watching it.

Scriptwriter Patrick Rotman has said he is not trying to stir anti-Sarkozy feeling, pointing out that the script was written before the man accused of wanting to be a celebrity was sworn in in 2008 and his popularity plunged.

© 2011 AFP

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