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Sarkozy biopic drags dirty French politics to Cannes

by Charles Onians (On Twitter: @abcharlieafp http://twitter.com/#!/abcharlieafp)

CANNES

, France

The dirty world of French politics was dragged up the Cannes red carpet Wednesday with the premiere of "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.

   Durringer told journalists after the screening that he wanted to show "how politicians put themselves on the stage to touch the hearts of citizens... Politicians are like actors, they're very close to theatre."

   The director revealed that much of the film was shot in secret without the right permits so as to avoid politicians seeing the script.

   Sarkozy's office "never had the script or if they had it, well, you can pirate a computer," he said.

   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 by Bernard Le Coq as a cross between Steven Seagal and Marlon Brando in the Godfather, says the short-statured Sarkozy will never be president as "he stopped growing too soon".

   Cecilia meanwhile 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.

   Scriptwriter Patrick Rotman said he wanted to show the cruelty of politics and that "viewers will be surprised to discover the violence of the vocabulary of big personalities in politics."

   "It's a big speciality now in France... you have to eliminate people in your own camp. That's why the hatred and virulence are so strong."

   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 the film will have on his chances.

   Podalydes said that he had met Sarkozy, at the actor's request, two months ago and that he had said he would not be seeing the film.

   "It's rare for an actor to be able to visit his character," Podalydes said. "Sarkozy received me courteously and with humour, but said he wouldn't see the film, just as he doesn't read books about him."

   "He asked if I enjoyed playing the role and I said 'yes, very much,' and he said, 'well so much the better, at least there's that.'"

The cast of the movie "La Conquete" (The Conquest) with (from
3rdL) French actors Samuel Labarthe, Hippolyte Girardot, Denis Podalydes,
Bernard Le Coq, Florence Pernel, screenwriter Patrick Rotman, Gregory Fitoussi
and French director Xavier Durringer pose on the red carpet before the screening
of presented out of competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2011
in Cannes AFP/Anne-Christine Poujoulat

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