5 years at the Elysée (IN)
Duration: 139 min (in three parts)
Directed by the President of the Republic
With: Emmanuel Macron
Guest Starring: The French Government, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Emma Watson, Greta Thunberg, Donald Trump and featuring the voices of Joe Biden and Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
In a gilded office, with a fancy chandelier lighting up his face, the hero faces a group of assistants, with his back to the camera. It’s a wide shot, and the sound is muffled. The hero looks serious and determined.
“My intuition is that if we manage to put something in place, we have to go for it,” he says.
“Where?” asks an incredulous adviser.
“In Moscow … I think it’s time,” replied French President Emmanuel Macron, with a devastating eyebrow raise. The servants squirm in their seats.
The scene takes place towards the end of “5 years at the Elysée” – a 139-minute feature film divided into three parts and broadcast on Macron’s YouTube channel – much like David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks: The Return” but with less cherry pie.
Apologies for the spoiler, but you can probably guess what happens a few scenes later: As restless violins bubble in the background, Macron and his nameless cronies head for Moscow, then Kyiv. Two weeks later, Russia would invade Ukraine.
The premise of “5 years at the Elysée” is indicated by its title. A state-funded flying movie that follows Macron through his first five years in power. An uncredited, publicly funded – and now surely idle – editor was tasked with going through what must have been a veritable mountain of raw footage.
All the greatest hits from Macron’s first term are here:
The Yellow Vest Crisis — BOOM!
Victory of France in the World Cup – CRASH!
The COVID-19 Pandemic — KA-POW!
The War in Ukraine – YIKES!
The Benalla affair, when a former security aide close to Macron was caught violently manhandling demonstrators during the May Day protests – WHAT FUN! THERE IS NO MENTION OF THIS.
Veteran big-screen star Joe Biden even shows up on speakerphone several times, mostly apologizing for calling so late due to jet lag.
The the film has no voiceovers, features no interviews, and only provides crumbs of context by playing sound bites from news anchors. Ever the diva, Macron is in nearly every shot, with the notable exceptions of a Yellow Jackets montage showing police being beaten up – the full image is often missing – and an awkward encounter between Christine Lagarde and Ivanka Trump. .
The rest is pure and pure Macron. There is social drama as Macron stares from balconies where working-class tenants demand he do more for young people. There’s a pinch of absurdist comedy as Macron rises to celebrate France scoring a goal in the Jardins de l’Elysée, surrounded by seated children. There’s even a hint of Nordic melancholy when the president, dominating Greta Thunberg, asks the teenage icon: “And you read a lot about the climate?”
There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes footage meant to give the viewer the impression that they’re seeing an unguarded Macron – of course it does no such thing and simply reminds you that you are watching the Elysée’s own account. The president is seen choosing a white shirt instead of another white shirt. As he finishes a daytime interview, Macron asks the soundman who removes the microphone from his shirt: “Was that clear enough?
All of these moments show the tension between the director’s roles as a cog in Macron’s PR machine, and as a producer of a public record, filming moments of history. There is also a tension for the viewer, as one has to wonder whether to suspend disbelief or not. The camera seems to be filming all the time, capturing every moment of Macron’s presidency. But when he visits the Paris suburb of Cergy, just after his re-election, there is no image of him being bombarded with cherry tomatoes. What else don’t we see?
Macron was re-elected after the release of the first part of the film, so it was not part of his campaign material – in fact, another series called The candidate, in which Macron breaks the fourth wall, aired during his election run. This makes 5 years a unique piece of cinema, a propaganda film with no real purpose, except to pay homage to Truth cinema and YouTube vlogging.
The Cannes Film Festival ends this weekend. This film is not shown there.