Whatever its flaws, this movie provides fans of French star Léa Seydoux with a treat. She is in closeup so much of the time: that mesmeric, feline beauty is cool in repose, a mask of indifference or mystery, but with a suggestion of late-night indulgence in the faint lines under the eyes. She has something of Isabelle Huppert’s hauteur – although Huppert’s own faintly ironised blankness only came at a later life-stage. Seydoux’s hairstyling and maquillage are swoonworthy, particularly the arterial slash of lipstick. She never appears without a different, entirely gorgeous designer outfit (mostly Louis Vuitton), sensational enough to shatter glass.
As for the film itself, it’s an oddity which never quite finds its purpose or shape. Partly it is a TV news/celebrity satire in the style of Network or Broadcast News; partly a state-of-the-nation parable (this may just come down to her character being called “France” and people saying things like “I love you, France!”); and partly a tragicomic reverie about what women want, and what men want.
It is with this third quality that the enigmatic presence of director Bruno Dumont makes itself felt. He started as a kind of Bressonian social realist, often using northern French locations and non-professional actors; and there are some non-professional newcomers here, and the final scene indeed takes place in northern France. Dumont pivoted to broad, wacky comedy and now seems to have swung back to seriousness, though in this film the dialogue tempo will often mysteriously decelerate towards some weird epiphany or nervous breakdown.
Seydoux plays France de Meurs, a nationally famous TV news presenter who can never go out in public without people begging for selfies; in the hilarious opening scene, she is deepfaked into a press conference addressed by Emmanuel Macron and is personally called on by the president, leading to outrageous conspiratorial grinning between France and her producer and BF Lou (Blanche Gardin). (The closing credits make it clear that Macron did not intentionally contribute to the film.) Not everything in her life is great: her husband Fred (Benjamin Biolay) is a middling novelist who owes what career he has to France’s celebrity.
And then: catastrophe. Due to inattention at the wheel of her car, she accidentally knocks a young delivery driver off his scooter, and the shock of this and the unfamiliar bad press triggers a strange depressive meltdown in France, who can’t stop crying. She contritely visits her victim Baptiste (Jawad Zemmar) who lives with his equally impoverished mum (Noura Benbahlouli) and dad (Abdella Chahouat) to beg their forgiveness, and offer large amounts of cash. Her starstruck victims never for a moment think of suing her and are simply overwhelmed at the honour of her visit. Then France considers quitting the vacuous world of TV entirely and goes to an Alpine rehab resort for a doomed romantic encounter. But wait: might she rejoin the TV world and use her newfound propensity for crying to seem more compassionate in war zone reports?
The ostensibly satiric action of the film rattles along watchably enough, and Seydoux is always tremendously charismatic. But the film’s interest resides in those strange rallentando moments when nothing happens, when characters stare at each other, or into the camera lens, and appear to zone out. It is the kind of “dead air” touch that TV news dreads – but which makes this interesting.
• France is released on 29 December on Mubi.