France will go to the polls on May 7 to determine the country’s next president, choosing between extreme right National Front (FN) candidate Marine Le Pen, who has run on an anti-immigration, anti-EU platform, and independent centrist Emmanuel Macron. The latter currently leads in the polls, but as we’ve seen in the recent past, surprises can lurk around any corner.
And although the French film industry is largely anti-Le Pen, filmmakers and celebrities have been less vocal than their American counterparts in expressing political opinions publicly. Today, however, Luc Besson, the French filmmaker known round the world, launched a thoughtful anti-Le Pen screed entitled “La Grande Illusion” to “denounce the wonderful scam that we are on the verge of falling for.”
This most contentious of elections has been dubbed a new revolution by much of the local and world media, given that it sees a runoff between candidates from neither of the traditional parties. And here in France, it is all anyone can right now focus on — or run to bury their head from.
In a Facebook and Instagram post, Besson spoke his mind today, reminding that “fraternity is not a slogan, it is in our DNA.” With a little more than a week to go before the final voting round, more might join the chorus. Already today, French football legend Zinedine Zidane, an integral part of the victorious 1998 World Cup national team and now manager of Real Madrid, said of a potential Le Pen win, “We need to do everything to avoid this.”
Here’s Besson’s missive in full:
THE GREAT ILLUSION
Dear compatriots, friends, and brothers,
My name is Luc B. I’m 57 years old, French, married, and father of five beautiful children.
I don’t belong to a particular community, party or union.
I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, and I’ve never done drugs.
I do work, however, and have done since the age of 17.
I work for my company, family and country.
All in all, I’m a regular citizen.
I have a sense of belonging to the French people, and I’m proud of it.
I speak out today because I owe it to myself to denounce the wonderful scam that we are on the verge of falling for.
We are the scammed.
Sentimental folks, yearning for ideals, strung along by fine words, tired of believing, revolted by unkept promises.
Weakened, disillusioned, an easy prey, like a wounded animal alone in the jungle.
Blinded by our tears, we are the perfect target for hawkers selling flowers at church doors or handkerchiefs at cemetery gates.
Our anxiety exposes us, makes us vulnerable. We’ll listen to anything that brings a moment’s relief. It’s the best possible time to abuse our confidence, and it’s the con artists’ cue to make their entrance.
There are two of them, operating a two-pronged movement: the Le Pen family and the National Front.
Let’s consider the Le Pen family for a moment.
Firstly, there’s the father, for whom the Holocaust is a detail, racism is a lilting tune, and foreigners are vermin. He says he’s from the superior, white race, but the more he talks, the more I dream of being black.
About forty years ago, he started the family business trading in fascism, racism and xenophobia. He also owns a record label that, not so long ago, was still claiming royalties on Nazi songs. The firm also specializes in verbal and physical excesses, and provocative remarks. The French sometimes have short memories, however. Who remembers the Algerian-bashing gangs of the 1980s? Who remembers the young Arab thrown into the Seine, who later died of his injuries? Never forget, or else one day it’s you who’ll be forgotten.
Drained by such tireless activity, the father handed the business on to his daughter, Marine, who now claims to be “the candidate of the people,” “the anti-Establishment candidate.” What a joke! Marine is an heiress, raised in wealth and luxury in Saint-Cloud, a well-heeled suburb of Paris.
She has never really worked in her life: neither in a company, nor in a factory, and definitely not on a farm. She has never contributed to France’s growth, and has never created any jobs (except fake ones apparently). She is, in reality, the perfect representative of the Establishment she denounces, living off handouts from Brussels, and exploiting the system in every possible way to her advantage.
How can you claim to be the “candidate of the people” without ever working for or with the people? And how can you declare your opposition to the “system” while milking it for all it’s worth for decades?
Then there’s the National Front: a nice little business, whose upper echelons comprise the elite of French fascism. I have read the 144 points in their manifesto for the presidential elections. Three or four points are worthy of discussion, around fifty are inapplicable, and the rest is electoral fluff.
You’ll be told what you want to hear just so long as you vote for them. The National Front proposes reestablishing hard borders and deporting foreigners, so it’s just us in our own little world. Keeping it in the family, in a way.
When and where in history has turning in on oneself had positive results? Never. Withdrawal brings isolation. Isolation leads to totalitarianism. Totalitarianism spawns fascism. Fascism results in war. Five thousand years of history are there as proof, and the little Saint-Cloud heiress cannot change history.
We’re dealing with professionals, so the scam is two-pronged.
France holds regular elections. Seeing as campaign expenses are reimbursed by the “system,” there is money to be made. The FN puts up a swath of inexperienced candidates, with no chance of winning of course, but no matter — the FN brand is strong enough the make it over the barrier of 5% of the vote that entitles the party to reimbursement by the “system.” Inflating campaign expenses grows the amount that is reimbursed.
That’s how the National Front pockets several million euros at every election (see the excellent France 2 report on the subject). Concurrently, the National Front tops up revenue by ensuring its leaders are paid by Brussels (the “system”). For all this to work, winning 5% of the vote is essential. So the brand needs to be strong. Brand image is developed similarly to that of any company operating in the derided “system.” Publicity and PR stunts are crucial. The window dressing is updated and improved to attract new customers. Slow-motion pictures of Captain Le Pen are posted, at the helm of her yacht, her hair blowing in the wind. Even the National Front name is changed to Bleu Marine. A flower is chosen as the logo.
Her hair is trimmed, her teeth whitened, and her wardrobe revitalized. And, every day, carefully crafted talking points are spouted by the party’s leaders across every form of media to reach every potential customer.
Can you feel the scam coming together? Special offer — real bargain—factory price?
An action of humanization to make it acceptable? However, (by definition) the devil is the devil and when he pretends to change it’s to abuse us better.
Next, the father is ditched as too divisive, although his six million euros are still accepted for the campaign. Give her another five minutes, and she’ll be telling us she’s no longer a member of the National Front.
To complete the candidate’s makeover, a few reassuring slogans are dreamed up, such as Une France apaisée (A Soothed France). Seriously? Who are you trying to kid? It’s like Volkswagen using environmental arguments to sell its cars, which are five times more polluting than modern standards. “Soothed”? By dividing the country? By criticizing those who are different? Diversity is an opportunity, a strength. It is hope, not a scourge.
“The foreigners are to blame,” chant the FN’s leaders. It’s easy to lay the blame for everything on “others.” Personally, I would like to thank all the North Africans, Spaniards, Portuguese, Senegalese and other foreigners who defended our country, then built our roads, bridges, hospitals… Thank you to our foreign friends for preserving our country’s liberty and beauty. And thank you to all those countries that take in two and a half million of our French compatriots, who are able to live overseas without being pointed at and stigmatized.
Let’s not be taken in. All these easy slogans are intended solely to get our votes because the only thing that interests the Le Pen family and its gang of extremists is “dough, bills, moolah, loot, cheese, shmoney” as mentioned by (Michel) Audiard.
It’s my job to fabricate dreams and bring them to people, but we’re not fooling anyone: we tell stories that may be funny or sad, and although we try to make them truthfully, with love and hard work, we never claim that they are real life. I think I can tell a good script and a good actor when I see one.
The film Ms. Le Pen has put together for us is just awful. The script doesn’t make sense and it has terrible actors playing not just the lead but also the supporting roles. At a farmers market, for example, Ms. Le Pen tries to make eye contact with the camera at just the right angle before she flashes her publicity-hungry smile. Worst of all, her gaze is miles away. She doesn’t give a hoot about the butcher’s or farmer’s problems. She isn’t listening. She’s an actress out to steal the scene, forgetting her partner. The art of acting is to infuse an imaginary situation with truth. Ms. Le Pen gets the basics all wrong in a real situation, she delivers zero truth. Her eyes are devoid of love, compassion or emotion. Her performance is embarrassing.
The audience doesn’t interest her. She just wants to make sure she has top billing.
That’s the scam I felt I had to denounce. There is no truth in what she is doing, just the urge to pick a dying man’s pockets. We are all outraged that three million people in France are unemployed, and another nine million people live in poverty. I feel terrible for our farmers, craftsmen and workers. They are our compatriots, our brothers and sisters.
Ms. Le Pen will not save them. On the contrary, her policies will only drive these numbers, and our distress, upward. Only we can truly do something about it, because we are the French people. Dignified and united. It is our civic duty, as laid out in our constitution. Fraternity is not a slogan, it is in our DNA.
Let’s look after our country, let’s open up, let’s transcend ourselves, and let’s show the snake oil sellers that they have no place among us. Let’s show the rest of the world what it really means to be French. We are an open, courageous and fraternal people that has no need of two-bit ideology to get by. A great people grows even greater by supporting and reaching out to others.
The world is watching. History is waiting.
To the polls, citizens!