You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

The Minister

Subtitles alone won't be enough to translate "The Minister" for export, though writer-director Pierre Schoeller's serious-minded exploration of what makes a French politician tick could impress local auds intrigued to get a nonpartisan look at the process.

With: Olivier Gourmet, Michel Blanc, Zabou Breitman, Laurent Stocker, Sylvain Deble.

Subtitles alone won’t be enough to translate “The Minister” for export, though writer-director Pierre Schoeller’s serious-minded exploration of what makes a French politician tick could impress local auds intrigued to get a nonpartisan look at the process; pic’s Fipresci win at Cannes is likely to boost its October opening in Gaul. A far cry from the rosy optimism of Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” this dense, talky drama attempts to humanize a greenhorn Minister of Transport’s personal idealistic struggle in a far more realistic fashion, seemingly content to appeal to a small set of discerning viewers.

Opening with a vivid dream borrowed directly from Helmut Newton’s photograph “The Legend of Virginity,” in which a nude woman crawls into the mouth of an alligator, Schoeller’s film demonstrates a similar view of his protagonist’s fate. Politics is the carnivorous beast that devours good men —  men like Bertrand Saint-Jean (frequent Dardenne brothers collaborator Oliver Gourmet, equally haunting in a rare white-collar role) — who are naive enough to believe in the purity of public service.

Saint-Jean awakens hot and bothered to an urgent phone call: There has been a terrible accident. A bus went off the road, women and children are dead, and so he must respond. Though visibly moved by the tragedy, Saint-Jean has been at it long enough to know the game. He dresses for the television cameras and measures the sincerity of his response by the quality of his soundbites.

Saint-Jean represents a new breed within French politics, which “The Minister” suggests has long been dominated by a self-perpetuating class of career politician. His old-wood colleagues admire his idealism, but use him nonetheless. In Schoeller’s view of government, someone is always using someone else, and in Saint-Jean’s case, the prime minister expects the protag to oversee implementation of the policy he most vehemently opposes: privatization of the French railway system.

In reality, the proposal sounds absurd, as it would mean turning a service whose state subsidization the French take for granted into a for-profit enterprise. In dramatic terms, however, the potentially scandalous idea suggests the degree to which Saint-Jean must compromise his personal values. And yet the minister obeys his superiors, proceeding dutifully into the gaping maw of the metaphoric alligator.

Schoeller depicts the character’s moral descent over a series of boardroom handshakes, backseat cell-phone conversations and onscreen text messages — all of which beg the kind of punchier behind-the-curtain stylizations Aaron Sorkin brings to such fare. Instead, The Minister” rivals the tedium of Schoeller’s last film, “Versailles,” in which you can’t help waiting for something to happen. The good news: Something happens all right, with Saint-Jean being forced to reevaluate his priorities by a spectacular — and spectacularly ironic, given his position as transportation minister — near-death experience.

Though laced with threads of dark humor, “The Minister” is far removed from the realm of satire. Instead, Schoeller coolly observes the loneliness and soul-crushing pressures of the job. The character’s only real companions are his pragmatic secretary (Michel Blanc), and the blue-collar chump recruited to be his driver (Sylvain Deble, an amateur who carries his own among pros). At home, seeing only compromises when he looks at himself in the mirror, Saint-Jean tells his wife, “You wouldn’t love me if you knew me.”

However frustrating it may be to follow, “The Minister” stands as that rare project that sees past the cliches of politics, paying the world respect through its elegant widescreen lensing and score (which Schoeller composed). The film is not about petty men driven by vanity or thirst for power. Rather, it recognizes the impotence of this particular calling and, based on the character’s early erotic dream, the curious thrill it arouses in some.

The Minister


Production: A Diaphana Distribution release or an Archipel 35, Les Films du Fleuve presentation and production, in co-production with France 3 Cinema, RTBF, Belgacom, with the support of CNC, Canal Plus, Cine Plus, France Televisions, in association with Soficas Cofinova 7, Soficinema 7, Les Regions Wallonnie et Bruxelles Capitale, with the support of Belgian Tax Shelter, Casa Kafka Pictures Movie Tax Shelter Empowered by Dexia, Inver Invest, with development support from Cofinova, La Procirep, L'Angoa-Agicoa, Media Programme of the European Union. (International sales: Doc & Film Intl., Paris.) Produced by Denis Freyd, Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne. Directed, written by Pierre Schoeller.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Julien Hirsch; editor, Laurence Briaud; music, Philippe Schoeller; set designer, Jean Marc Tran Tan Ba; costume designer, Pascaline Chavanne; sound, Olivier Hespel; special effects coordinator, Pierre Foury; line producer, Andre Bouvard. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Un Certain Regard), May 19, 2011. Running time: 112 MIN.

Cast: With: Olivier Gourmet, Michel Blanc, Zabou Breitman, Laurent Stocker, Sylvain Deble.

More Scene

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

  • Anthony Anderson LADF

    Why Anthony Anderson and Billie Jean King are Giving Back with the Dodgers Foundation

    Celebrities and athletes came together at the Dodgers Foundation Blue Diamond Gala to celebrate the team’s commitment to supporting youth and to catch a glimpse of the event’s headliner: Bruno Mars. Billie Jean King and Ilana Kloss were honored at the fifth annual event, which raised over $3 million for programs benefiting Los Angeles youth. [...]

  • Shia LaBeouf poses at the premiere

    Shia LaBeouf to Host Birthday Fundraiser for Slauson Rec. Theater Company

    Shia LaBeouf is celebrating his 33rd birthday by giving back. The actor, who turned 33 on June 11, will host a fundraising concert later this month for the Slauson Rec Theater Company, a 10-month-old free performing arts program he co-founded in downtown Los Angeles. The night will also include a preview of the Slauson Rec [...]

  • Awkwafina, Lulu Wang Celebrate New York

    Awkwafina Wants 'The Farewell' to Break Boundaries of Cultural Differences

    Family dysfunction is universal despite cultural differences. That’s what writer and director Lulu Wang wants audiences to take away from her film “The Farewell” starring Awkwafina. “This movie will teach us universality out of specificity. There’s something that we can all kind of relate to across cultures. There’s something we still have to learn about [...]

  • Elizabeth Debicki

    Elizabeth Debicki Talks About Being Supported by Other Women in Hollywood

    Elizabeth Debicki is looking to the future — which makes sense, since she was named Women in Film and Max Mara’s “Face of the Future” for 2019. “No pressure,” Debicki laughed when Variety asked the actress about the honor on the red carpet. “It means a great deal. I have always deeply respected the work [...]

  • Carla Gugino Jett

    How Carla Gugino Is Redefining the Anti-Hero in Cinemax's Crime Drama 'Jett'

    “This is like no character I’ve ever played,” Carla Gugino told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of Cinemax’s “Jett” on Tuesday night. “I think television is filled with great roles for women, which is such a godsend these days. But the anti-hero — there’s still a double standard there.” In the new series, Gugino [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content