Terrible English title aside, âBeing Presidentâ is a terrific documentary that follows Gaulâs current head of state, Francois Hollande, during his first eight months in office. Helmed by Patrick Rotman, this is a unique, almost all-access portrait, shot with pared-down elegance, that suggests what the day-to-day of a contempo French president is likeÂ â more meetings and speech rewriting than you can shake a stick atÂ â as well as how Hollande in particular makes it his own. A film of observation rather than of juicy revelations, âBeingâ might be a tough sell theatrically, though docu fests and smallscreen buyers will be impressed.
A politically inclined documentary filmmaker (TVâs âChirac,â âMitterrand, le roman du pouvoirâ) and screenwriter (the Sarkozy pic âThe Conquestâ), Rotman seems ideally suited to document the inner workings of the presidential Elysee Palace and the man at its head. (The helmer simultaneously directed âA lâElysee,â a nonfiction feature for co-producing Canal Plus that focuses on the palaceâs employees).
Filming started on May 15, 2012 (exactly a year before the picâs local release), when Hollande was officially installed as the 24th president of the French Republic. The first sequence consists of wide, high-angle shots as the country's former first couple, Nicolas Sarkozy and Carla Bruni, leave the Elysee and Hollande arrives. But the film rapidly moves closer to its subject indoors, with the camera present at a variety of weekly encounters with ministers and heads of department; meetings to prepare international summits; and official functions such as a trip to United Nations headquarters and a grand dinner organized for the state visit of Italo president Giorgio Napolitano (actresses Monica Bellucci and Carole Bouquet can be spied among the guests).
The impression Hollande gives in these images and the separate voiceovers is one of quiet but authoritative efficiency; he's well prepared in meetings, extremely demanding (heâs rarely happy with his prepared speeches and revises them himself), good at delegating to lower-ranking officials but also taking advice from them, and constantly aware that heâs the man in power. âWe can be friendly but not equals,â he says of his ministers at one point.
Thankfully, heâs also got a sense of humor, which occasionally comes through here. Rotman and his two lensers occasionally underline the absurdity of some scenes, as when three people groom the president simultaneously for a photo shoot.
Some details will fly over the heads of viewers unfamiliar with French politics and Hollande in particular, such as a scene in which he watches Segolene Royal, his ex-wife and a presidential candidate herself in 2007, as she concedes defeat in the June 2012 parliamentary elections (his dry commentary: âSheâs credibleâ). But Rotman isnât much interested in specifics, and the film deliberately avoids captioning any dates, places or people. Instead, through the fluid editing of Yvan Gaillard, âBeingâ tries to give a wide-ranging impression of what a French president does and how Hollande, specifically, does it.
Oddly, the filmmakers fail to include any mention of the type of access they had, though the press materials explain that they filmed for about 50 days over an eight-month period and had to ask for Hollandeâs approval for each specific date (âHe rarely said noâ). The officeholder was shown only Rotmanâs final edit and wasnât given the opportunity to censor anything, with the presidentâs professed reason for participating being that âtransparency can only benefit democracy.â
Lensing by Romain Winding (âFarewell, My Queen,â a handheld exploration of a different type of French ruler) and Dominique Gentil (âThe Chorusâ) is dictated by available light and the need to remain as unintrusive as possible. Even though there are a few shakycam shots, the cameraworkâs mostly polished. Direct sound isnât always perfect but generally fine, while the musical scoreÂ â a lot of clarinet, cello and pianoÂ â further adds to the picâs classiness.