Last Mitterrand, The

Director: Robert Guediguian

France| 2005. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 115 min.

It’s not unusual for a film to centre on an ailing older man imparting wisdom and experience to a young man before it’s too late, but in The Last Mitterrand the oldster in question is French president François Mitterrand and the young man is a 30-year-old journalist ostensibly helping him with his memoirs. As the socialist president who led France for two seven-year terms from 1981-95, Michel Bouquet gives a performance that certainly equals—and perhaps surpasses—Anthony Hopkins’ Nixon and Bruno Ganz’s recent Hitler.
A welcome departure by director Robert Guediguian from his Marseilles-set films, this is an accomplished and subtle portrait of a shrewd, infuriating, yet lovable politician deliberately leaving gaps in his legacy. What emerges is a look at power, strategy and how youthful ideals—as well as possible youthful errors—shape a man.
While the script alludes to specific incidents without spelling them out, viewers unfamiliar with Mitterrand’s reign can still enjoy the film in the same way it’s possible to enjoy The Motorcycle Diaries without knowing Ernesto Guevara went on to become Che. One need only know there’s a country called France that saw fit to elect a left-wing head of state during the same period when communism was teetering and toppling throughout the Eastern Bloc.

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