- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 18, 2011

CANNES, FRANCE (AP) - Politics gets personal in “The Conquest,” a vivid re-imagining of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s rise to power and the simultaneous unraveling of his marriage.

As the first French leader to divorce _ and then remarry _ while in office, Sarkozy’s real-life saga is the stuff of soap operas, and director Xavier Durringer treats it as such, viewing the five years of political jockeying that preceded Sarkozy’s 2007 election through the lens of his relationship with then-wife, Cecilia.

Hyped as a behind-the-scenes glance at the private lives of the Sarkozys, “The Conquest” is arguably the most highly anticipated French movie at the Cannes Film Festival, where it screened Wednesday.

Still, a disclaimer at the beginning of the movie proclaims it is a work of fiction “based on the lives of real people,” and Durringer, too, insisted he wasn’t worried about the film’s historical accuracy.

“No one can say _ even the politicians themselves, can’t say _ that things happened exactly like this or that,” Durringer said at a news conference.

The strength of the movie lies in the performances of its cast, whose imitations of the scions of recent French politics _ from Sarkozy’s aging predecessor, former President Jacques Chirac, to his main rival, the patrician, silver-hailed Dominique de Villepin _ are spot on.

Denis Podalydes’ Sarkozy deserves special mention. Though his physical resemblance with the diminutive, thick-haired leader is limited, Podalydes bristles with the electric energy and nervous tics that earned Sarkozy the nickname, “The Energizer Bunny.” He also gets Sarkozy’s voice and speech patterns down so well viewers could be forgiven for thinking the conservative politician dubbed his own voice. (He didn’t.)

In fact, Sarkozy has said he wouldn’t go to see the film.

“In general, I don’t read what is written about me,” he said in an interview with Telerama magazine. “That’s because I’m never happy. If it’s critical, I find it unjust; if it’s flattering, it’s not flattering enough. … So what’s the point?”

In the movie, Sarkozy comes off as a basically nice guy with ego issues. At one point, he shouts at his advisers, “Don’t forget, I’m a Ferrari. When you open the lid, you need to wear gloves.”

Durringer focuses on Sarkozy’s softer side, often hidden from the public by his sharp-edged public image. On election day, when he knows himself hours away from the presidency, we see an unshaven Sarkozy in the doldrums because Cecilia refuses to go vote with him. (That actually happened in real life.)

Wednesday’s screening comes a day after Sarkozy’s father, Pal, was quoted in Germany’s Bild newspaper as saying that the French leader and his current wife _ former model-turned-singer Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who he married less than a year after taking office _ are expecting a child. The president already has three sons from two previous marriages, and Bruni-Sarkozy has a young son.

The screening also comes as France digests the sex-assault case against Frenchman Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the International Monetary Fund chief who was widely seen as the Socialist Party’s best hope of beating Sarkozy in presidential elections next April.

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