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Gaumont powers up Sarkozy project

Studio joins with Mandarin for biopic on French prez

Paris– Following biopics on Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg, French president Nicolas Sarkozy will be the next French icon to hit the bigscreen.

French powerhouse Gaumont has joined forces with Mandarin Cinema to produce “The Conquest,” a character-driven political thriller about Sarkozy’s rise to power. Gaumont has also taken international and French rights.

Rather than classic biopic — think Oliver Stone’s “W” — “Conquest” examines the mechanisms and machinations of backroom politics in France. On a larger scale, it sheds light on the power games being played in today’s media-driven democracies.

The timeline for “Conquest” begins on May 6, 2007, with Sarkozy’s presidential victory. It unveils, via flashback, Sarkozy’s journey, starting in 2002, when then-president Jacques Chirac told him he wouldn’t appoint him prime minister, and how Sarkozy went on to win power but lost his marriage.

“This is the story of a man whose political ambition is huge but who remains, despite everything, very human,” says Gaumont chair Sidonie Dumas.

“What first got us excited was straying off the beaten path,” adds producer Eric Altmayer, at Mandarin. “In the U.S., Britain, even parts of Europe, many films look critically at their governments, but French cinema hasn’t tackled these topics.”

Raphaelle Bacque, a Le Monde political journalist, agrees: “In France, we’re passionate about politics. But it’s been nearly impossible to finance films representing people with power in a realistic fashion.”

As Altmayer points out, “France’s financial and political powers are very close, especially when it comes to private TV channels.”

French privacy laws, moreover, are notoriously strict, Dumas explains. “The story is based on true facts that have already been published in newspapers. It is not polemical.”

Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn, of Spanish distributor Alta Films, which bought Piaf portrait “La Vie en rose,” says that to sell the new biopic abroad, the film can’t just be about Sarkozy. “It has to have something more,” he says.

“Conquest” was made with an international audience in mind. Sarkozy’s team considered itself to be a bit like characters in “The West Wing,” Altmayer says.

Adds Dumas, “Our ambition is to reach the same target as ‘The Queen.’?”

Script was penned by Patrick Rotman, who previously directed docus on Francois Mitterand and Chirac. “For a few years now, the way politicians behave with the media has made things change,” Dumas says. “Their attitudes are closer to actors, stars; we know more about their private life.”

Denis Podalydes, who plays Sarkozy, differs physically from the French prez, but inhabits his mannerisms.

Now in post, “Conquest” opens in France in early May, a year before the next election.