By Fatma Ibrahim
The French Institute in Mounira screened five-time award winning film The Minister (L’Exercice d’Etat) last Sunday. It is considered one of the few films that freely explored the façade of French politics. The film was produced in 2011, and was directed by Pierre Schoeller.
The film opens up with a scene of the minister of transport, Saint-Jean, having a bizarre dream of a woman crawling into a mouth of a wild alligator. It is somehow symbolic; the director Schoeller may have wanted to foreshadow the fate of Saint-Jean. Politics is a beast that devours its men, especially those with naïve ideals. The minister then nervously wakes up to the news of a terrible accident.
Throughout the film, there is a central conflict between members within the government. Many within the cabinet want to carry out a plan to privatise the French railway system, to which Saint-Jean stands completely opposed, vowing not to oversee the implementation of such plan. However, because of the extreme conflict of interests and the presence of those who are hungry for power and money, Saint-Jean finds himself manipulated, and eventually surrenders to the orders of those above him.
The director makes it clear that everyone is using everyone else for his or her own benefit, even those who admire Saint-Jean for his fragile idealism. Saint-Jean is aware of such a fact, but seems helpless. He tells his wife: “Politics is a wound that never heals.”
The character of the minister is remarkably developed on a humanistic level as well. He is lonely, and faces more pressures than he could handle. Simple human relations are given priority in the midst of all the political hassle, which makes the film appeal to the minds of wider audiences, and adds a nice thread of realism to the plot. This is seen through the protagonist’s near death experience, due to, ironically, a car accident. We see him cry, and mourn the loss of the driver he did not know very well. It gives him a chance to reprioritise his life, and he gains our sympathy once again after almost losing it with all the compromises he offered to ensure his place in the political race to the top.
What makes this film appealing is the universality of its themes: anyone has the potential to be morally corrupt, given the right circumstances and time. Power is a dangerous weapon, and to obtain it, people suffer, manipulate, compromise their values and personal lives, and cheat. There is no utopia on Earth; even for those we count on to promote justice and truth, it all can change in a blink of an eye.