Quai d’Orsay

Synopsis: Doors slam and papers fly in this off-the-wall comedy lampooning French politics from master filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier (The Princess of Montpensier). Based on the award-winner graphic novel by former government speech writer Abel Lanzac, The French Minister revolves around fictional Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexandre Taillard de Vorms (a tour-de- comic performance by Thierry Lhermitte), a human whirlwind and a man confident in France’s importance on the world stage. With a take-no-prisoners attitude, de Vorms faces American neo-cons, corrupt Russians and the opportunistic Chinese while his hapless speech writer (Raphael Personnaz, Anna Karenina) endures the eccentricities of his megalomaniacal boss and his sycophantic entourage. In the vein of political comedies like In the Loop, The French Minister in s hilarious send-up of diplomacy and international politics with rapid-fire dialogue and a brilliant ensemble cast.

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Quai d’Orsay 8.0

eyelights: Thierry Lhermitte. its sumptuous palaces. its satirical bent. its adaptation.
eyesores: its dryness.

“You’ll be our only functioning brain. All of ours are already fried.”

‘Quai d’Orsay’ is the 2013 motion picture adaptation of the award-winning graphic novels by Christophe Blain and Antonin Baudry. It is based on Baudry’s experiences of working for the French Foreign Ministry during the lead-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

It finds Arthur Vlaminck, a University student, being called upon by Minister Alexandre Taillard de Worms to work in his office as a speech-writer. Though they’re incompatible politically, Arthur is won over by de Worms and decides to try his best to help him.

Then he gets sucked into bureaucratic chaos.

I had enjoyed the graphic novels, which a close friend of mine had recommended, so picking up the movie seemed like a natural thing to do. And, when I discovered that Thierry Lhermitte played de Worms, I was pretty eager to see it; it certainly had potential.

‘Quai d’Orsay’ delivered.

It’s actually an excellent adaptation of the source material, hitting on all the key notes and gimmicks and tweaking them for a viewing audience. It lifts the story off the page and gives it a pizazz whose absence would otherwise have hobbled a feature-film version.

For instance, many scenes are separated by intertitles featuring quotes by Heraclitus, there’s less emphasis on the “Ludistan” debacle, the Minister is more realistic/less cartoonish, Arthur’s girlfriend has more of a role and there’s far more action in the third act.

The greatest change from page to screen, though, are the visuals: the original books had rudimentary, if not stuffy, art that was suitable for the material but wasn’t exactly eye-popping. The movie, however, makes great use of the locations to spruce things up.

And, as the picture was actually shot on location in the prestigious Ministerial offices at Quai d’Orsay, as well as the palatial Assemblée nationale française, it’s actually quite an enjoyable watch – if one appreciates opulence and 17th-18th century architecture.

Thierry Lhermitte is excellent as de Worms, injecting in the Minister the appropriate amount of aloofness and absurdity, but also grounding him enough that he doesn’t quite feel like a caricature. Meanwhile, Raphaël Personnaz is solid as the beleaguered Arthur.

Interestingly, one of the strongest performances comes from a supporting player: Niels Arestrup, as Claude Maupas, the department head. His Maupas is great, always cool, in control, competent – even when he falls asleep in meetings, bouncing back with deft and wile.

Arestrup won a César for his performance.

In some ways, ‘Quai d’Orsay’ is a good complement to ‘In the Loop‘. While the latter is a Brit satire of the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, this is the French version. It’s not as outrageous or vulgar; it’s more subtle in its approach. But it’s nonetheless amusing.

Ultimately, it strikes an excellent balance between being faithful to the graphic novels and catering to moviegoers – especially those who haven’t read the books. It stands on its own – though it would be probably advantageous to have a prior point of reference.

For huge laughs, I’d look elsewhere. But, for its craft, for the way that it skewers international politics, for its performances, for its filmmaking, and certainly for its eye candy, it’s well worth seeing. It’s a picture I look forward to revisiting in the future.

I might even double-bill it with ‘In the Loop’ when I do.

Date of viewing: July 13, 2017

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