The French Minister
It's said to be In the Loop with subtitles, but what's missing is a Malcolm Tucker.
In Bertrand Tavernier's new political comedy, fictional foreign minister Taillard de Worms is likened to a human tornado. His arrival is announced by a sudden blast of wind, his departure accompanied by the scrambling of stressed-out aides. In that way, he's a lot like the film in which he resides. The French Minister rushes around with lots of sound and bluster. Yet it never really adds up to anything more than a bunch of hot air.
The film is based on a popular French comic book by author Antonin Baudry. The book was, in turn, based on Baudry's time working as a speechwriter for Dominique de Villepin, the actual French Foreign Affairs Minister during the early parts of the 2000s, who serves as inspiration for the bombastic, temperamental de Worms.
An arrogant, volatile, melodramatic diva, de Worms speaks mostly in pompous quotes and metaphors, with the occasional bizarre demand thrown in for good measure. He should be intensely unlikeable, but actor Thierry Lhermitte — apparently a major comedic star in France – endows him with a cocky sort of charisma.
He's certainly more interesting that the film's protagonist, newbie speechwriter Arthur Vlaminck. There's nothing wrong with actor Raphael Personnaz's performance, but the character is just way too thinly drawn; a cipher through whose wide eyes we're given a glimpse at the madhouse of power. Even blander is his dutiful fiance, whose sole reason for being in the film appears to be so she can smile adoringly at her BF. Well, that and a few totally unnecessary shots of her lounging around in her underwear.
Most of Arthur's working day involves drafting and redrafting speeches — and then inevitably redrafting them again once de Worms or someone else dismisses his work out of hand. The film's ticking clock is an address to the United Nations, at which de Worms will urge the free world against a pre-emptive invasion of the Middle Eastern nation of Ludmenistan — a very obvious stand-in for pre-2003 Iraq.
Despite being sold as In the Loop with subtitles, Tavernier's film is far sillier than it is satirical. Most of the sharpest gags centre on the ministry's appalling bureaucracy problem; Arthur seems to have about five bosses and spends the first third of the film without an office. Niels Arestrup has some terrific moments as a veteran chief of staff, his character providing the perfect deadpan foil to de Worms' energy and Arthur's naivete.
What the film is really missing, though, is a character like Malcolm Tucker. Without an angry Scotsman threatening to punch people into paralysis, the humour feels decidedly toothless. Soon, jokes and comic arcs start repeating themselves — whether Arthur is writing a speech about a coup in Africa or a dispute between French and Spanish anchovy farmers, de Worms' reaction is inevitably the same. As disconnected subplots crop up one after the other, the movie grows episodic and the comedy rather stale.
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