Over the past few years, the integrity and credibility of the journalistic profession have taken quite a bruising. Journalists and news media have been questioned for their sensationalism and for skewing the narratives — is it all staged and manipulated for the clicks and viewership? These questions at the heart of French writer/director Bruno Dumont’s new dramedy, France, unfortunately get lost in the character drama, long awkward silent stares, and lousy car scenes.
The incomparable Léa Seydoux stars as France de Meurs, a “hard-hitting” celebrity journalist “pushing boundaries” and “putting herself in danger’s way” to shine a spotlight on the plight of individuals in war-torn countries or migrants crossing treacherous waters for a better life. But are her stories as they seem on the small screen? France’s career is on the incline, and her life seems enviable — even if she’s in a loveless marriage (Benjamin Biolay) with a son (Gaëtan Amiel) that doesn’t respect her — until a freak car incident gives her a jolt of reality that triggers a self-reckoning, internally and externally. Has France come to realize that nothing in her life really matters as she becomes disillusioned with her fame?
As France starts to question her current reality, we get a sneak peek into her strained relationship with a husband that feels emasculated by a wife who makes much more money and doesn’t seem to respect him. We see how France stages her on-location “in the heat of the moment” reporting and we begin to question whether everything in her life is staged. After an on-air snafu involving a conversation with her assistant (Blanche Gardin), her star begins to take a turn. The “halo of light” is only there when the audience loves you. But luckily for France, the incident seems to be wholly swept up the rug. The audience’s memory is very short. The rest of the film is spent with France grappling with her fame, a love/hate relationship with her career, dealing with grief, and her love life, or lack thereof.
Dumont started with an intriguing premise, but the satire quickly gets overshadowed and lost in the melodrama and relationship problems. It could be said that some “hard-hitting” journalists do too much to center themselves in their stories, overshadowing and treating their subjects as fodder. Dumont and Seydoux do a great job portraying that as France treats the lives and desperation of her subjects as a joke. There’s a great interaction with a politician who was just debating on her show. He says, “journalists and politicians are the same. One is just in it for the numbers/viewers while the other is pandering for votes.” If the film had focused more on this social commentary aspect, it might have been a much more interesting watch.
The first third starts with a hope that this will be pretty good even though it’s hard to tell whether it is supposed to be a comedy, even though it’s billed as one. One can’t tell whether the film is taking itself too seriously and falling flat, or if it’s just so cringe-worthy that it borders on funny. We feel as though we’re supposed to sympathize with France in some way as she begins her self-reckoning, but it’s hard to feel empathy for someone who on the outside has a “perfect” life but is disillusioned with the world of their own making. It just comes across as a rich, sad person sob story that doesn’t connect. Seydoux does a great job looking forlorn, pouting, and crying. If this film delivers nothing else, it delivers the tears.
In the end, France is a hard one to watch. There are way too many lingering, awkward stares, and some pretty awful green screen that give it a low-budget, parody feel. Even with her excellent performance, it’s hard to like or feel anything for Seydoux’s character. She’s an unrepentant mess. Actually, its hard to feel any sort of connection with any of the characters, outside of the migrants and refugees whose misfortune is exploited for viewership. France is a mixed bag that completely unravels. The only memorable things of note left are Blanche Gardin’s performance (she really is the highlight), the amount of screen time Apple Air Pods get, rich sad tears, and bad car scenes.