How much do we need to know about Nicolas Sarkozy? That’s the question we have to be asking ourselves with The Conquest, filmmaker/playwright Xavier Durringer’s docudrama about the prise de pouvoir of the current French president. If you’re still reading this review, you’re probably interested enough to be told that it’s too concerned with political intrigue to function as a general-interest drama, yet a bit too soapy to work as a behind-the-scenes policy exposé. Maybe a documentary would have done the job better.
As portrayed by Denis Podalydès — a popular French actor mostly unseen in the US except in small parts in such films as Caché or The Da Vinci Code — Sarko is the ultimate self-made man, a willful party functionary in France’s conservative Union for a Popular Movement who bides his time, dodging back stabs by his “allies” Jacques Chirac and Dominique de Villepin as he jockeys for position on the national stage. His greatest asset, and also his biggest challenge, is his wife Cécilia Sarkozy (Florence Pernel), who leaves Sarko for another man but returns to his side “just for the election.”
Podalydès does a decent job impersonating the man his rivals called “the midget,” but the haughty patricians Chirac (Bernard Le Coq) and Villepin (Samuel Labarthe) steal the movie away from him every time they sneer at his populism. Maybe if Sarkozy dusted off an old guillotine and staged his own counter-revolution, but no — wrong group of people. M. le Président is a spiritual ally of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, an opportunist who adores sweets and chic women, not one to upset the status quo unnecessarily. He’d rather get tough with underclass rioting youths than with fellow pols. The only conquest this movie achieves is the victory over insomnia.