Kino Lorber
Reviewed for &, linked from Rotten Tomatoes by Harvey Karten
Director: Bruno Dumont
Screenwriter: Bruno Dumont
Cast: Léa Seydoux, Blanche Gardin, Benjamin Biolay, Emanuele Arioli, Juliane Köhler, Gaetan Amiel, Jawad Zemmar, Marc Bettinelli
Screened at: Critics’ link, NYC,11/18/21
Opens: December 10, 2021

If you watch a news program, a real one, not some fake on social media, you’ll notice an unflappable anchor delivering as though she were on location. Norah O’Donnell on CBS, for example, holds forth weeknights at 6.30, wearing a variety of bright and sometimes somber outfits, occasionally with boots. Yet you may wonder why the anchor is the star and the people in the field treated as her assistants. Bruno Dumont’s principal character in France, though, is a woman who is all things. She anchors the news; she shows up across the Mediterranean covering a war against ISIS; she sails next to a refugee boat heading for Europe. Most important to Dumont, though, is not the cynical, satirical look at what goes on off camera with France (Léa Seydoux) but what happens to her when she experiences a breakdown, takes off for four weeks to attend the cure in the Alps at a sanitarium for the wealthy, and responds to a strained romance that she cannot get out of her head.

Dumont, whose “Humanity” (my favorite of his) is about an eleven-year-old girl raped and murdered in a French village. The idea that monsters are among us pops up in “France” as well, serving to point out an epiphany, a redemption, in the character of the news anchor. Or does it?

Nicolas Bier’s editing is on display early on with a news conference from French President Macron, the large group of journalists appearing to absorb his talk and ask questions, though the scene is a grand fake. The news program’s producer Lou (Blanche Gardin) serves as comic relief with a succession of vulgar gestures, apparently ignored by the rest of the journalists and by Macron. Later on Lou’s capers will do damage to the anchor when a microphone catches her bantering with France about their pretense of sailing on the same boat as African refugees heading to Europe.

There are seemingly two films in one. The first is the sendup of TV news; the second deals with France’s private life, which some may find more involving once the chuckles are over and serious stuff is laid on. Given that France makes, as she states, five times as much as Fred (Benjamin Biolay), the husband she tells a shrink she “can’t stand,” we don’t wonder that her home is filled with floor-to-ceiling paintings. (Consider that one journalist on MSNBC makes $15 million a year, we see how France, like her, can easily afford the best.)

When France bumps and injures a man on a scooter with her car, she turns even that into a humanitarian topic like her coverage of the African refugees. What are supposed to think? Is she sincere, or is she wearing the hat of a journalist? Dumonta does not spoon-feed. After her breakdown and resignation from the TV station, she falls in love with Charles Castro (Emanuele Arioli) who is posing as an ordinary guest at the sanitarium, their break-up occurring after she discovers what a dick he really is.

Ultimately, given the tonal dissonances, particularly Dumont’s intention to let the viewers figure out this complex newscaster, we don’t really know what the director seeks. Does he have such contempt for TV personalities that he is intent on showing them up as worse than ordinary people? Is he aiming for a simple tragi-comedy, a disaster occurring near the conclusion that comes out of nowhere and may be intended to make her realize her superficiality? Is she sincere when she delivers a monologue to Charles Castro riddled with clichés like “Don’t postpone the present?”

Nonetheless the film is worth viewing to appreciate Léa Seydoux’s complex performance, going from exhilaration to embarrassment, from a cynic to a more understanding human being. You may appreciate Dumont’s trusting the audience to make up their own opinions, but the tale may have been better if we could believe the transformation: France de Meurs like the prisoner on death row who finds Jesus.

In French with English subtitles.
133 minutes. © 2021 by Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – C
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B-

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By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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