When Bruno Dumont’s 2021 film France was released, it received a divided reception from both the audience and the critics. For a group of people, it becomes a masterfully crafted media satire based on the contemporary world. For others, it is nothing but an absurd human drama with a lack of clarity in its subject. Either way, the film is praised for the performance of the lead, Lea Seydoux, who plays the titular character with much richness.
On the occasion of its release on MUBI, I would like to talk about the film in detail and try to analyze its main themes in this article. So, be aware as it is going to be filled with spoilers.
France (2021) Plot Summary & Movie Synopsis
The film talks about a charming celebrity reporter and TV presenter, France de Meurs. She is quite influential in her job, and people adore and worship her like some demigod.
In the initial scenes, director Dumont establishes this notion quite exquisitely with random pedestrians taking selfies with her or asking for her autograph. In one scene, French president Emmanuel Macron seems quite charmed by France’s persona when he is asked a question by her.
Besides her charm, there is another side of France’s persona. She is very good at her job of creating media spectacles by projecting herself in the middle of everything. In one of her reports about the anti-ISIS resistant force in Sahel, she skilfully dictates to the soldiers how to act ‘stronger’ and ‘tougher’ on camera. At the time of the telecast of this report, she edits this with her interview of the soldiers and makes a perfect spectacle of the war itself.
The film also dwells on France’s personal life. She is married to a writer named Fred and has a son, Jojo. She has quite an estranged relationship with her husband. Their nocturnal interactions dwindle between erupting in narcissistic arguments to climb up the gender politics and moments of care for each other. On the other hand, France’s son doesn’t seem to have much affection for his parents and mostly lives in his own little bubble.
One day, while going to work, France inadvertently hits a young delivery boy in the streets of Paris, leaving him with a dislocated knee. Quite upset about this incident, France tries to help the boy and his family (North African immigrants). The boy’s family is a big fan of France’s work and initially becomes hesitant to take help from her. But eventually, they take help from her and become very much moved by this gesture from France.
But due to this incident, she becomes front-page news, and the paparazzi constantly follow her activities for more page three stories. With all this happening around her, France’s exterior celebrity persona begins to crackle, and she starts questioning her priorities. She is having a kind of breakdown, and as a result, she leaves her work.
To recover herself, she goes to an Alpine retreat. There she meets with an enigmatic handsome young man named Charles Castro. He charms France and gives her comfort and love, which she widely misses in her marriage with Fred.
But as soon as they come to Paris, she finds out that Charles is a journalist and is writing an article about her. The act of love is just for his own benefit to gather information about her. Shattered to learn this, she breaks all ties with Charles despite his claims that he has truly fallen in love with her.
After some time, she returns to her former position on TV and starts reporting the war zones. While making one such report, she encounters a bunch of refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in a boat. She sticks with them and gathers a lucrative amount of footage of their sea voyage, projecting herself traveling with them throughout the journey despite having their own big boat around them all the time.
When this report is telecasted, France’s assistant Lou accidentally sends their behind-the-screen conversations about how she (France) manipulates the viewers to create a spectacle with the facts.
This becomes a hot topic in the media, with everyone criticizing France for this behavior. While this is going on in Paris, Fred and Jojo are spending their vacation somewhere in the mountains. There they meet with a fatal card accident that kills them both.
France seems quite devasted by this incident, yet she is quite focused on her work. One day she goes to interview the wife of a serial rapist and murderer. There again, she uses the same technique of manipulation, which we see earlier in the film when she is reporting the war. She completes the interview and comes back home.
At home, we come to see her preparing for her show. At this time, Charles comes to her apartment and confronts her. She tells him that the job is killing her, but she makes peace with it. And he is the only person who is away from this madness. She also states that the present is the most important thing in life, so don’t postpone the present. Stating that they both go out of the apartment, where they witness a man thrashing a bicycle. Bewildered by this incident, France puts her head on Charles’ shoulder, and the camera zooms to her face, where we see her smiling.
France (2021) Movie Themes Analysed:
The Photo Culture
France is a film that extensively shows us our fascination and obsession with photos. In this age of social media, everything for us is mere content. Even if that be the interaction with a celebrity, that interaction can be a human act, but in the modern age, this is degraded to mere content.
In the film, random pedestrians ask France for her autograph or permission to take a photo with her. With this kind of repetitive action, Director Bruno Dumont suggests that in modern society, people are more interested in the idea of humanity via images or any other form of object projecting humanity than the actual human act.
The Media Spectacle
The film constantly shows how media is manipulating the facts and creates a kind of hyperreality. France’s attempt to capture the war with much-planned construction of events (from her speech to possible camera angles) showcases how the media can create spectacles out of the ordinary.
France’s dictation of how to look the soldiers ‘stronger’ and ‘tougher’ exemplifies the notion of how the media sees the world. For them, it is a mere piece of art. And through it, reporters and journalists like France get the opportunity to create a kind of celebrity persona around them by projecting themselves as the agent of getting reality into light.
Emotional Alienation and Mental Health
For the most part of the film, it is about the existential crisis of France. As I mentioned earlier, in the media business, you need to project yourself constantly. Being a celebrity journalist, France is constantly projecting herself. As a result, she creates a shell around her; hiding her true persona. But when she first encounters the accident with Baptiste, the delivery boy, the shell starts to crackle.
She is questioning her own priorities and even her own self. As a result, she breaks down and feels detached from her work, family, and even herself. This alienation becomes so prevalent that eventually, this becomes the reason for her downfall.
France (2021) Movie Ending Explained:
What will be the Future of France?
In the film’s final sequence, we see that Charles comes to France’s apartment while France is preparing for her upcoming show. Charles asks for forgiveness for his acts. She responds that she has faced many sorrows after his betrayal. So, his betrayal is just a trivial thing among the real monsters; in addition, she states that her job is killing it, and she doesn’t want this celebrity fame. But she makes peace with it and understands it is not her real self (the celebrity self). Metaphorically, she puts this as living in the present and not postponing it.
From this, we can presume that she accepts her reality, and from now on, there is no need for her to take refuge in the false self of celebrity fame. Also, in her monologue, she states that Charles is the only person out of this madness of fame. And in the last scene, we see them both come out of the apartment to the streets of Paris. So, it can be possible that France forgives Charles, and from now on, they will support each other.
What is the significance of bicycle thrashing in the end?
The film’s ending finds France and Charles coming out of the apartment. We see a man angrily thrashing a bicycle parked near the footpath. Seeing that France and Charles become quite bewildered. After the man leaves the scene, France places her head on Charles’s shoulder, and the camera zooms into her face, which slowly turns into a wide smile.
In my opinion, this entire scene signifies France’s broken outer celebrity persona. Like the bicycle is thrashed, France’s exterior shell of being just a showpiece for the public is entirely broken, and she learns to accept her true self. So, in the end, she places her head on Charles’ shoulder – committing a human act after all the fabrication of facts throughout her journalism career.