“Quai d’Orsay” is the name of the building which houses the French Foreign Ministry and it is the title of the graphic novel on which the film is based. Written by Antonin Baudry, a diplomat who worked under Dominique de Villepin during the lead up to the war with Iraq and who co-wrote the screenplay for the film. The English title of the book, Weapons of Mass Diplomacy, gives an idea of the attitude of the film towards its subject. A Gallic political farce which skewers the egocentric, self-serving, back-biting cast of poloticos. It is a fast paced romp through the corridors of power and it lampoons many of the sacred cows of diplomacy, not the least of which is the language of politics. We see the action through the eyes of a wet-behind-the-ears Arthur Vlaminck (Raphael Personnaz), who has been hired as the foreign minister’s speech writer. Arthur is brought in to meet his new boss, Alexandre Taillard de Worms (Thierry Lhermitte). He is escorted through the formal, highly-polished, elaborately-gilded halls of the ministry by the equally highly-polished staff and he is clearly in over his head.
The minister swoops in with such velocity that people and papers in his wake go flying. He is a highly-charged, egomaniacal, intense presence who speaks in epithets - as if every sentence is being recorded for posterity. His extreme verbosity consists of quotes from classical Greek philosophers, grand Churchillian-sounding phrases and similes remeniscent of the late Diana Vreeland. Much of it is baffling, convoluted, and purely spoken for effect. It is also very amusing. Arthur, the irony-free neophyte, is told that his job description is to be in charge of “words”. His first assignment is to prepare a speech for the minister to deliver at the UN concerning France’s position regarding an invasion of a fictional middle eastern country.
Alexandre, with his attention deficient disorder behavior and gnomic utterances is not going to be an easy read for Arthur. What follows are Arthur’s attempts to pin down and decipher what exactly it is that the minister thinks and how to say it for him. What he discovers is that he is in the midst of a hive of sophisticated careerists who do not give a damn about the outcome of their actions except when they directly influence their own status. Otherwise, it is all about power playing and one-upmanship.
It is fast and furious and often giddily funny as the hapless Arthur is dragged along in the wake of the minister’s flurry of activities with the whirling entourage of sycophants and minions. It is a combination of VEEP and THE WEST WING with a French twist. It also, sadly, feels incredibly true.
Review by Belle McIntyre