Plenty of movies have been made about famous politicians out of office, but films about leaders still in office are few. "The Conquest," which the filmmakers are careful to point out is partially fictionalized, is a Gallic film about current French President Nicolas Sarkozy (Denis Podalydès).
Co-writer and director Xavier Durringer proceeds from the not unreasonable premise that politics and show business are part of the same continuum. Like movie stars, politicians have their entourages, their lawyers, even their makeup artists. Glamorized by power, they play out their lives on a world stage.
"The Conquest," which is fairly entertaining in a hyped-up docudrama sort of way, regards Sarkozy as a thoroughgoing political animal. The film follows his life between the reelection of previous center-right President Jacques Chirac (Bernard Le Coq) in 2002 and Sarkozy's election as his successor in 2007. Sarkozy's ascent is so monomaniacal it's comic (except, of course, for those who get in his way). He is nothing if not blunt. He makes his presidential aspirations known early on to Chirac; to dapper Dominic de Villepin (Samuel Labathe), Chirac's handpicked successor-in-waiting, he says: "You're a dead man." The only person Sarkozy appears to be cowed by is his wife, Cécilia (Florence Pernel), also one of his advisers. When she leaves him for another man, an advertising executive no less, he is crestfallen not only because he craves her company but even more because it doesn't look good for a presidential aspirant to be wifeless. Of course, even here, we are made to feel that Sarkozy doesn't have it so bad – waiting in the wings is Carla Bruni.
Durringer has a good sense of pacing, and he keeps the various interlocking machinations reasonably comprehensible even for those of us who aren't experts in French political intrigue. Podalydès manages to vary Sarkozy's outbursts enough to keep him from becoming a ranting boor.
Still, I prefer a bit more drama in my political docudramas. "The Conquest" never really breaks out of its genre in the way that, say, "The Queen" or "Il Divo" or the more fictionalized "In the Loop" did. It's an evenhanded movie about a politician, and a political landscape, that would have been more suitably served with a more outré style. Grade: B (Unrated.)