By Anna Bielak | April 26, 2012
Director: Pierre Schöller
Writer: Pierre Schöller
Starring: Olivier Gourmet, Michel Blanc, Zabou Breitman, Laurent Stocker, Sylvain Deblé, Didiez Bezace, Jacques Boudet, François Chattot, Gaëtan Vassart, Anne Azoulay
“If he hadn’t exist, one would invent him” claims Josepha (Anne Azoulay). What an ironic observation! Saying that, she looks at Bertrand Saint Jean (Olivier Gourmet), the French ministry of transport. He is already drunk, yet there is another glass of vodka in his hand. Bertrand is spending the evening with his driver, Martin (Sylvain Deblé), and his wife Josepha at their claustrophobic house trailer. He is having a really great time, drinking a toast after toast; political roughs and tumbles intensify the conversation. In the meantime, the human face of the politic has been unveiled. One needs to be quite an actor to play a real human rather than a waxwork from the government; and with Olivier Gourmet’s talent and inner potential, this is a piece of cake. However, in the world of politics featured by writer-director Pierre Schöller in his L’exercice de l’État, lots of situations are hidden under the disguise of great acting on the governments’ stage. Thankfully, nothing hinders Schöller from finding dust that was wiped under the carpet, uncovering governmental games.
In this context, the prologue of L’exercice de l’État is extremely important. The tempting minister’s dream we are talking about is inspired by Helmut Newton’s acclaimed photo entitled Crocodile Eating Ballerina that Schöller turns into a moving picture. Black-and-white aesthetics make way for gold and red colors. The mildness of a naked woman’s body is cleverly juxtaposed with the asperity of the reptile skin on it. The director brings such intensive contrast into effect, so I do not want to simplify the story by choosing only one symbolic meaning of the crocodile’s figure among many. I get the full-scale image when I compare lightness and shadow, power and helplessness, death and living, hypocrisy and honesty, greediness and self-commandment. The world in Schöller’s film is constructed with a meticulousness equal to the listing of those symbolic meanings. To make a perfect cocktail, the French director precisely adds to the plot the elements of gravity, irony, grotesque, criticism and acceptance. Should I call him a gambler or does the nickname of intelligent matchmaker suit him better?
Schöller observes the minister with a human eye, so he sees a real person, not a fake figure. We meet Bertrand as he wakes up in the early morning. Before the phone rings, we have a few minutes to notice that the dream mentioned above has elicited a natural sexual excitement in him. Eroticism and death — a nice combination. So, I am not surprised that the phone call is about a tragic bus crash near a newly opened road. The minister needs to offer his condolences to the society. However, dealing with the accident is like nice foreplay. The issue of the privatization of railway stations — which Bertrand is opposing — appears soon afterwards. Time for another tournament is coming. The winner gets power and recognition, as well as the opportunity to make a final decision. Who is right? That is not the right question. Who has the better cards to play this treacherous game? That’s a much better one.
Thankfully, the director is concerned about any viewers who are not very keen on politics. The plot is understandable from the very beginning until the end. Governmental issues are commented upon from the experts’ point of view and from the perspective of laymen. Speaking of — it is Josepha’s time once again. During the same meeting that I mentioned in the first paragraph, Josepha bares her teeth at Bertrand saying that being minister means that he doesn’t have to take any personal responsibility — it is amazing how she hits the nail on the head!
On the contrary, Schöller takes complete responsibility for showing the multidimensional world of politics; people who are dealing with common, everyday problems and are feeling constrained to make highly important social decisions. He takes the responsibility for casting Gourmet in the part of the minister — casting the best actor who has the ability to maintain a straight face while answering phone calls as he sits on the toilet with his trousers wandering around his ankles. Schöller takes responsibility for putting a specific comicality into a film that does not make us laugh, but rather makes us think about the reality that we do not really know. L’exercice de l’État is a subversive story in a similar way as Nanni Moretti’s Habemus papam (2011). It is a film that irks the system on the surface, but also as sorely as a stone stuck in your shoe. No matter what you are doing, you need to stop and figure out what is wrong, because you cannot go on ahead with this pain anymore.
Go to Stopklatka.pl for the original Polish-language version of Anna’s review.