Le Promeneur du champ de Mars (The Last Mitterrand) (2005)

 

 

 

Director:     Robert Guédiguian.

Starring:     Michel Bouquet (Le Président), Jalil Lespert (Antoine Moreau), Philippe Fretun (Docteur Jeantot), Anne Cantineau (Jeanne), Sarah Grappin (Judith), Catherine Salviat (Mado), Jean-Claude Frissung (René), Philippe Le Mercier (Fleury, le garde du corps), Serge Kribus (Riou, le chauffeur), Jean-Claude Bourbault (Le libraire), Grégoire Oestermann (Garland), Béatrice Bruno (Thérèse Manicourt), Philippe Lehembre (Chazelles), Istvan Van Heuverzwyn (Deletraz), Rémy Darcy (Ladrière).

ambivalent portrait of French President Francois Mitterrand  (1981-1995)

 

Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film. 

A young fellow named Antoine Moreau is riding the subway and he thinks about Mitterand who employs him to help with his memoirs.  The older man is finally opening up to him. 

One day Mitterrand took Antoine on a helicopter flight.  They fly near the Chartres cathedral.  Mitterrrand talks about one of his favorite poets, Peguy.  The poet was killed at the front in WWI just before the Battle of the Marne.  And Mitterrand was born two years later.  Antoine hopes that he explains what Mitterrand calls those disparaged "forces of the spirit".  Mitterrand does not explain the remark. 

Mitterrand gets out of a helicopter.  He is disappointed to see the press there and some officials.  One of the secret service people tells Antoine that Mitterrand's prostate cancer is in remission and now the fellow is eating again. 

Antoine is in the cathedral with Mitterrand who talks about the audacity of Charles VII.  He was the first to have a recumbent statue for his tomb.  He speaks of Francoise I and Claude de France.  Then he goes on to Henry II and Catherine de Medici.  Next is Louis XII.

Mitterrand comes out of the cathedral and tells Antoine:  "I'm the last of the great presidents.  I mean, the last  in the line of De Gaulle. . . . Because of Europe and globalization nothing will be the same."

In his office Mitterrand says that he and De Gaulle never got along.  He adds that he humiliated De Gaulle in 1965 when they went to a second ballot.  Next he shows Antoine a picture of members of merit from the French Resistance at Montmaur in 1942.  Mitterrand is one of the men in the photo.  He goes on to say that for 50 years they has been playing a cat and mouse game with him, but they haven't gotten him yet.  And, he says, there's not a trace of anti-Semitism in his family.  His own father was disgusted by the anti-Semitic laws of the Vichy government.  He himself has been attacked in the press.  And he was on a trip recently where during lunch someone loudly asked for Vichy water, while he stared at Mitterrand.  "It's been 50 years now that they've hounded me. . . .  And I'm supposed to be an anti-Semite?"  The President excuses himself saying he is going to lay down. 

 A woman name Simone says to Antoine that the year of the French Resistance photo was 1943, not 1942.  That's when Mitterrand openly joined the Resistance.  The woman says she knows because she was there.  In fact, it was her network.  Antoine says the 1943 date for the photo is very important.  In 1942 Laval returned to power and the Germans invaded the French Unoccupied Zone.  On July 2, Rene Bousquet agreed to turn over 30,000 Jews to the Germans.  The woman questions if Antoine can be objective on the subject of Mitterrand.  His fault is that he likes the old man and:  "Love is always blind."

Antoine goes home at 2 in the morning .  His wife Jeanne has fallen asleep on the bed.  He awakens her and she tells him that she took a sleeping pill. 

Antoine talks about an earlier meeting with Mitterand.  Antoine goes to a book store to get a book for the President's birthday.  At the birthday dinner Mitterrand reminds everyone that he was elected as a socialist president.  He says:  "A few years from now, they'll act as if I never existed.  No legacy, no heirs."  He's still in the fight and he names some interlopers:  the Jospinians, the Rocardians, the ex-Trotskyites at Le Monde and those who claim he has a palace in Venice.  A woman hands her birthday gift to the President.  It's a framed photograph of Leon Blum.  Antoine gives Mitterrand his gift.  The book is by Leon Bloy and the President comments that what he doesn't like about Bloy is his despair. 

One of the guests asks him why doesn't he run for the presidency again?  Mitterrand says he has prostate cancer. 

Antoine has dinner with his wife and her parents.  The father-in-law says about Mitterrand:  "If he's socialist, I'm the Pope."  He quotes Mitterrand saying:  "Anyone who doesn't break with capitalism, can't be a socialist."  And he became the party leader.  Marchais became the head of the Communist party.  Father-in-law says it nearly broke his heart when Marchais signed the "historic" agreement. 

In 1977 Marchais stood up to Mitterrand.  Jeanne tells her father that Marchais should have done that long before '77.  She is irritated by the discussion she has heard many times before.  She says she's going to go out for some fresh air and:  "I'll let you drivel on."   Antoine goes too.  The parents think that the two of them are not getting along well. 

Mitterrand tells Antoine that the socialists have put him "in quarantine".  He doesn't feel that he has completely abandoned socialism. 

Antoine comes home and finds a note from his wife:  "I'm keeping our child, but for myself." 

On a train ride, Mitterrand starts feeling ill.  His doctor tries to give him some medicine, but Mitterrand won't take it because he says the stuff will knock him out.  He says that his father died from the same disease within two years.  He had no treatment and did no complaining.  He adds that since the 17th century, no man in his family has lived past the age of 80. 

A limo takes Mitterrand to his next appointment.  There he sees Antoine and he welcomes him.  He tells Antoine that on the train he thought that he might die.  He makes a speech to a working class crowd about the importance of the labor movement.  He says that they must remember that the family of the left is the workers.   Antoine asks himself:  "Why did he no longer believe we could change the world?  . . . Why did he think we had to be patient?" 

Driving his car with his wife as passenger, she tells him that she is leaving November 8, Roissy, terminal B.  She asks him if he wants to drive her there?  Not if her assistant Rudy is going along.  He accuses her of sleeping with the fellow.  She calls Antoine a jerk, but she admits it. 

Antoine comes into Mitterrand's home and discovers that the older man is still in the bath tub.  Mitterrand asks him for a hand out of the tub.  Antoine acts as if he is embarrassed by this, but he does it anyway.  All of a sudden Mitterrand starts to shake and holds his head in his hands.  Antoine asks if he needs to get someone, but the President says it will pass.  He tells Antoine that he has six months and 12 days to hold out.

Mitterrand is dressed and continues his life story.  In late April of 1945, De Gaulle asked him to liberate the camp at Dachau (10 miles northwest of Munich, Bavaria).  He wanted a French representative to  be there at the side of American General Lewis.  It was there that he found Robert Antelme, who had been thrown in with the dead bodies.  For some unknown reason, Antoine nearly bolts out of the room.  He goes to the bathroom to splash some water on his face.  Suddenly the door to the bathroom is closed and locked.  Antoine can't get out. 

Antoine is with his mother-in-law.   The baby is going to be a boy.  They talk a little bit about politics.  Antoine says he feels like he has a hangover from political events.  In 1981 he believed in the Union of the Left.  But now he feels there's a political void in the land. 

While Antoine works on the Mitterrand book, a real estate agent comes in with a young couple to look at the apartment.  The husband says to Antoine that he's heard that Antoine knows a lot about Mitterrand.  He adds that he won't miss the man when he's gone.   This makes Antoine angry and he says he won't sell the apartment to the couple.  The husband calls Antoine a "champagne socialist".  They leave, while the husband says the man is crazy.  Antoine sort of agrees with the husband.  He does feel as if he is going crazy.   

Mitterrand and Antoine ride in the limousine and Antoine asks him when did he lose his illusions?  The President doesn't really give an answer. 

Mitterrand takes a turn for the worse.  Antoine goes to see him while he is in bed.  Mitterrand had told Antoine that he is not going to give his New Year's Address, that he has nothing to say and that he is unfit for duty.

It's Christmas time.  Mitterrand and his staff of regulars watch Mitterrand's New Year's Address.   He himself is very pleased with the speech. 

At a restaurant Mitterrand is eating with his doctor and Antoine.  He says he wants to know why is he going to die?  He wants to understand it.  After lunch the men walk on the beach accompanied by a body guard.  The President says that the young woman in the restaurant kept looking at Antoine.  He asks how is Antoine and his wife getting along?  Antoine says she is having a baby and they are divorcing.  The President asks if it is irreparable?   Antoine says his wife is very uncompromising.  Mitterrand gives the 30 year old Antoine some advise about the qualities of a good woman  She should be 35 to early 40s.  He loves actresses, but not models.  With models it's always you can look but you can't touch.  Oh, and get a girl from the north. 

Antoine arrives at the hospital after the child is born. 

Antoine visits Simone Picard, the Resistance fighter, again.  She just had her arteries cleaned out.  Simone asks how his interviews are going?  Not so well, is the answer.  He says Mitterrand is so defensive and Antoine keeps getting bogged down on the Vichy problem.  He talks a lot about Jean-Pierre Moret, a sub-prefect in Vichy.  Simone says she knows this man well.  He worked under Bousquet's orders.  Simone gets irritated toward the young writer as he disapproves of anyone who worked in the Vichy government. 

Mitterrand says he doesn't know if it's worth going on with the biography.  Antoine tells him it's important that he go out on top, like Mitterrand himself said.  Then he says he is taking off a week to go visit his mother. 

The train stops at Vichy.  Antoine gets out and takes some photos, while he thinks of what he wrote in a letter to his wife.  He tells her that he sold the apartment and that he soon will be giving her some money.  He wants to see some of the places where Mitterrand worked. 

Antoine goes into an empty theater.  Then he goes to the library.  He asks the reference librarian about materials dealing with daily life in Vichy in 1942. The pretty librarian says she is working on an M.A. in history.  She's from the north  --  a place known as Saint-Quentin.  Antoine says he likes women from the north because they have depth.  She says:  "What a dumb generalization."  After getting over the shock, Antoine smiles. 

He finally asks the librarian if she has any materials dealing with the President?   She asks him why did he beat around the bush?   She says she doesn't like Mitterrand, but she also does not like the vultures who hover around him.  The man is about to die, leave him alone. 

In his hotel room on the bed, he asks Judith the librarian where is her family from?  She answers:  Bergen-Belsen [a Nazi concentration camp in Lower Saxony in northwestern Germany, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle].  He then asks why is she here?  She answers:  "Waiting for you" and laughs.

When he gets back with Mitterrand, the president says he wants to go lie down, but, first, he must know how Antoine's trip went?  He says just fine and that he thinks he has fallen in love with an ordinary girl.  Mitterrand asks him why did he go to Vichy?  No answer.  Mitterrand says he was just wasting his time by going there.

Antoine starts to write a letter saying that he needs a change, some time away from Mitterrand and the project.  It upset him that Mitterrand had him followed and that his phone had been tapped.  "I felt betrayed."  He goes over to a neighbor's apartment to use his untapped phone.  He calls Judith and leaves a message saying that he needs to talk with her.

Antoine is in the back of the limo again with Mitterrand.  The politician says he has three months left.  The older man tells the younger one that he is looking very gloomy.  He says his Judith won't return his calls. 

Mitterrand says he had a strict Catholic upbringing, but made his career as a nonconformist.  And the President gives Antoine some more advice:  "You have to sneer at what happens.  You must be passionately indifferent."

Simone Picard dies.  Antoine goes to the funeral.  He puts in another call to Judith. 

Mitterrand is going through his papers and books trying to dispose of part of his library.  He says in a few days he himself will pack up and leave.  He has 23 days left.  He says he's sorry about Simone Picard.  She was important.  Antoine says what makes Mitterrand so sad is not what happened during his Resistance work, but what came before and after that time.  Some people say he first met Bosquet in Vichy in 1942 and not 1949.  Mitterrand asks the fellow if he too is bringing up Bousquet?  Picard said that photo of the French Resistance fighters that the President has was from 1943, not 1942.  

The importance of the date is that in 1942 Bousquet was negotiating with Reinhard Heydrich [one of the main architects of the Holocaust] about the Vel' d'Hive roundup of Jews.  The President is shocked that Antoine believes what other people say about him.   

For the next 23 days, the President does not call Antoine.  But then the President calls.  They walk and talk.  He says the sooner he dies, the sooner the right wing takes over.   He says the right detests him because at one time he was one of them.  They feel he betrayed them.

Antoine is over at his wife's apartment.  She  is still seeing Rudy.  In fact, she found the apartment through Rudy, who lives in his own separate apartment. 

Antoine is at work when he gets a call that the President wants to see him.  Mitterrand says he just recently finished with his last cabinet meeting.  He wants to toast the event with Antoine, his body guard and his doctor.  He says he is the longest lasting president since Napoleon III.  He lasted for 14 years.

Antoine and Mitterrand take a walk together.  The President says everyone has forgotten him.  Nobody pays any attention to him.  And then a pretty girl comes up and asks him if she can give him a kiss?  Sure.   That encounter cheers him up. 

Mitterrand says that in his 14 years as president, France has had no wars, major crises or social upheavals. 

The President goes for a walk by himself.  He says he wants to be buried in the family vault in Jarnac.  He goes to the church and lays down on the floor as if he were dead in a casket.

Antoine shows his manuscript to Mitterrand.  He asks the President to try and clear up this Bousquet case.  The President does not want to talk about this matter again.  Antoine says that he wants to make it clear that the real deporters of the Jews were the top Third Republic civil servants, the desk-chair criminals.  Antoine wrote this statement out on paper and wants Mitterrand to sign it.  At first he is going to, then he decides not to. 

Antoine goes to his apartment building.  The desk clerk hands him a note from a young lady.  He reads the letter and becomes a bit ecstatic.  He runs back onto the street to see if he can see her coming back to the hotel, but she's not there.  So he reads the note.

Antoine works on cleaning up his messy apartment.  Judith knocks and is let in.  He asks her why did she never answer his calls?    She says because she wasn't free.  And you?, she asks.

Antoine takes a flight out to see Mitterrand.  The chauffeur tells him that he will find Mitterrand much changed.  The man is on his last leg now. 

Antoine comes in to see the bed-ridden Mitterrand.  The President says they will need three more months to finish the book.  Antoine helps him out of bed and over to the chair.  Now he tells Antoine that he has to catch a flight out, so he won't keep him any longer.   He asks Antoine if, on his way out, he would tell the doctor he doesn't want anymore of his herbal tea and that:  "I need to be alone."  He finishes with:  "Run along now."

 

Interesting movie.  I don't know that much about modern French political history, so it's kind of hard for me to judge all the things said in the film about Mitterrand.  The film says the most important thing about Mitterrand's career was whether or not he cooperated with Bosquet in sending 30,000 French Jews to the concentration camps.   The matter is still being debated in France.  It sure seems that Antoine thought that Mitterrand might have worked with Bosquet in 1942, instead of first meeting Bosquet in 1949. 

The film also makes Mitterrand look almost clinically paranoid, always complaining about his forever active political enemies. 

But Mitterrand's life was more than just this one question about the Holocaust.  He is the longest-serving President of France and the only figure from the left so far elected President under the Fifth Republic.

Michel Bouquet (as Le Président) was great in the role as Mitterrand. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

 


Historical Background:

 

Jospinians.  Party First Secretary Lionel Jospin decides to resign from his position.  Mitterrand wanted the post to go to Laurent Fabius.  This made Jospin angry because Fabius had been an intense rival to Jospin.  The party refuses to approve Fabius.  Mitterrand supporters became enduringly split between Jospinians and Fabiusians.  (In David S. Bell's book Presidential Power in 5th Republic France.)

Rocardians.  Followers of a man named Rocard.  Rocard said that social change is not just found in control of the state government, but also in freedom of the consumer and accepts the existence of the market.  Socialism must regulate the state, but also regulate economic and social life.   

 

 

 

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