As shocking as it seems to me that someone has already made films about the death of Osama Bin Laden, it’s equally surprising to me that someone has also made a film about how Nicolas Sarkozy became president of France. The 2011 film La conquête, or The Conquest in English, starts around 2004 and shows the rise of an ambitious man struggling to keep his marriage together and simultaneously attempting to achieve his professional dreams.
While Denis Podalydès isn’t exactly an Sarkozy-Doppelgänger, he certainly has some of the mannerisms down: he hunches over tables to eat, gestures wildly with his hands at times and those aviator sunglasses sure help nail the image. He portrays a believable Sarkozy who is fighting to keep his marriage together both privately and for the public image as his wife Cécilia (portrayed by Florence Pernel) decides in the lead up to the presidential election to leave her husband for his publicist. But despite Podalydès’ strengths in the role, the film had its issues.
What could have been a quick-paced political film was somewhat slow. And The Conquest didn’t spend enough time explaining certain issues. At one point, it’s suggested that Sarkozy is involved in an illegal campaign funding scandal. The film shows Sarkozy offering to give a preemptive interview to handle the growing scandal, it’s suggested a couple of times after that during the film but otherwise the scandal, that’s implied to be rather large and serious, is just pushed under the carpet without any further explanation. Similarly, a EU referendum that helped boost Sarkozy’s power and gain momentum is barely mentioned. Just that it’s “important.”
Did the filmmakers assume that viewers would already know the back story? Is it assumed we’re already familiar with all of Sarkozy’s inner circle of advisers? Or how about who the other leading French politicans are? Those other leading politicians whose dislike of Sarkozy is never really explained other than it’s because he’s ambitious. The Conquest is an interesting film that shows the difficulties Sarkozy was experiencing in his personal life despite his professional successes. It’s got it’s issues but it’s a steady, consistent film.