Bruno Dumont uses a French anchorwoman to explore his country’s media in France, a Cannes Film Festival competition entry that’s glossy and watchable but ultimately disappointing. Léa Seydoux plays France de Meurs, a TV anchorwoman and reporter so famous that she stopped for selfies everywhere she goes, from cafes to war zones. After she is involved in a traffic accident, she quits her job and ends up in a Swiss spa, but the respite she meets there isn’t quite what she’d hoped for.
It’s hard to get a handle on the intended tone of France, which darts between political satire, media critique and melodrama without getting under the skin of its central character. She’s not deliciously ruthless like Nicole Kidman in To Die For, or Rene Russo in Nightcrawler; but she’s not sympathetic either, making a series of poor and selfish decisions. Had her internal dialogue been explored, this grey area could have made for a strong character piece. But Dumont’s script stays close to the surface, and Seydoux’s strong performance can only go so far.
Still, this is certainly Seydoux’s most distinctive role in this Cannes, and she’s finally center stage, not playing the sexy wife/girlfriend but the lead character. Seydoux relishes France’s powerful moments as well as her vulnerable ones, and the two can come close together. After a TV show, she has a panic attack and dissolves into tears, but is swiftly comforted by the promise of a designer dress from her right hand woman Lou (Blanche Gardin). For once, Seydoux’s character is colored more by what she wears than what she doesn’t: in a key love scene, she’s not only fully clothed, but wearing a woolly scarf and hat. Back in the studio and the high-art gothic home she shares with Fred (Benjamin Biolay) and their son, she wears red lipstick, killer heels, sharp designer dresses, leopard print and leather: costume designer Alexandra Charles has had a field day.
The scenes with Gardin are by far the film’s funniest: Lou and France share a close bond and ribald sense of humor that’s put to hilarious use in an early scene involving footage of French president Emmanuel Macron himself — one that had the French press roaring with laughter at the screening. This comedy briefly recalls the British political satire In The Loop — but the tone soon shifts again and an hour in, we’re left wondering where all this is going. Dumont throws major drama at the screen, but doesn’t invite us to be moved by it. This begins as an intriguing portrait of fame, but by the time France has been asked for her twentieth selfie, it’s as wearing on the audience as it is on her.