Every year, when I make my selection from the Alliance Française French Film Festival line up, I would do it way in advance so that by the time I watch the movies, they will all be unexpected surprises. I was excited about Quai d’Orsay when I bought the ticket but moments after the opening scene, I had to think hard on what kind of movie that I was watching. Then I remembered that the movie is meant to be a political satire – almost like a French version of In the Loop. The movie is actually based on a political satire cartoon by Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain. I was excited again when I realised that and the movie certainly delivers on its promises to entertain and to present a caricature of the French bureaucratic political machinery.
Arthur Vlaminck (Raphaël Personnaz) is a newly hired speech writer to Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (Thierry Lhermitte) – the Minister of Foreign Affairs who loves sound bites and one liners from his much Stabilo-ed book of Heraclitus. Arthur has to quickly learn the ropes: dealing with other speech writers that are assigned to other parts of the world with their own peculiarities, as well as working with an enigmatic but very pragmatic Chief of Staff, Claude Maupas (Niels Arestrup). When a burning French ship sails towards ‘Lousdemistan’ (a pseudonym of Iraq in the movie), Taillard has to act quickly and relies on Maupas’ help to diffuse the problem before the Ministry of Defence or even the Americans send their assistance – which can be misconstrued as an invasion. The movie also shows the hectic world of meetings and the comical world of speech writers – having to deal with so many advice from the Minister and his literary friends, whilst also incorporating his passion for quotes and snappy one liners.
The movie does have some similarities with In the Loop – but I won’t say that it’s an adaptation or a copy. Quai d’Orsay is essentially very French in its approach and tune – and any other similarities are probably due to the fact that politics and governments are just paradise for bureaucrats. Lhermitte portrays the Minister very effectively and very entertainingly – you would hate to work for him but he gives great spectacle to people around him.
The movie does feel a tad long (my derriere told me so) at 113 minutes – however, when the credits were shown at a high point of the movie, I wish it would continue a while longer. One thing that I’m thankful is that the Director (Bertrand Tavernier) and the writers (Abel Lanzac and Christophe Blain) weren’t tempted to complicate Vlaminck’s character too much other than dealing with such an erratic yet effective Minister. The similar character in In the Loop has to deal with a lapse in judgement with a one night stand and losing a job at the end of the movie – whereas Quai d’Orsay knows when to stop at the top.