5 ans à l’Elysée (FR)
Running time: 139 min (in three parts)
Directed by the Président de la République
Starring: 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 beaming light onto his face, the hero faces a group of aides, with their backs 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 set up something, we need to go there,” he says.
“Where?” asks an incredulous adviser.
“To Moscow … I think it’s the moment,” French President Emmanuel Macron replies, with a devastating eyebrow raise. The minions squirm in their seats.
The scene comes towards the end of “5 ans à l’Elysée” — a 139-minute feature film divided into three parts and shown on Macron’s YouTube channel — not unlike 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 agitated violins seethe in the background, Macron and his nameless acolytes head to Moscow, then Kyiv. Two weeks later, Russia would invade Ukraine.
The premise of “5 ans à l’Elysée” is given away by its title. A state-funded, fly-on-the-wall film that follows Macron throughout his first five years in office. An uncredited, state-funded — and now surely resting — editor was given the task of going through what must have been a veritable mountain of raw footage.
All the greatest hits of Macron’s first term are here:
The Yellow Jackets crisis — BOOM!
France’s World Cup win — 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 protesters during May Day demonstrations — ONLY JOKING! THERE’S NO MENTION OF THAT.
Veteran star of the silver screen Joe Biden even shows up a couple of times on speakerphone, mostly apologizing for calling so late because of the time difference.
The movie has no voiceover, features no interviews and only gives crumbs of context by playing soundbites from newscasters. Ever the diva, Macron is in almost every shot, with the notable exceptions of a Yellow Jackets montage showing the police getting beaten up — the whole picture is often missing — and of an awkward encounter between Christine Lagarde and Ivanka Trump.
The rest is pure unadulterated Macron. There’s social drama as Macron looks up at balconies where working-class tenants ask him to do more for young people. There’s a sprinkling of absurd comedy as Macron stands up to celebrate France scoring a goal in the Elysée gardens, surrounded by sitting children. There’s even a hint of Nordic melancholy as the president, towering over Greta Thunberg, asks the teenage icon: “And you read a lot on the climate?”
There’s plenty of behind-the-scenes footage that’s meant to give the viewer a sense that they are seeing an unguarded Macron — of course, it does no such thing and merely reminds you that you are watching the Elysée’s own crafted narrative. We see the president choosing a white shirt instead of another white shirt. As he wraps a daytime interview, Macron asks the sound guy taking the microphone off his shirt: “Was it clear enough?”
All these moments show the tension between the director’s roles as a cog in Macron’s PR machine, and as the producer of a public record, shooting moments of history. There is tension for the viewer too, as one has to wonder whether to suspend disbelief or not. The camera is seemingly shooting all the time, capturing every single moment of Macron’s presidency. But when he visits the Paris suburb of Cergy, just after his reelection, there’s no footage of him being pelted with cherry tomatoes. What else are we not seeing?
Macron was reelected after the first part of the movie was released, so it wasn’t part of his campaign material — in fact, another series called Le Candidat, in which Macron breaks the fourth wall, was aired during his run for office. It makes 5 ans a unique piece of filmmaking, a propaganda movie without any real purpose, except to pay homage to cinéma-vérité and YouTube vlogging.
The Cannes Film Festival ends this weekend. This film is not being shown there.