- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 30, 2006

PARIS

Rocked by political scandal, derided by critics as the embodiment of French decline, President Jacques Chirac is now the hero of a spoof documentary that shines a merciless light on his 40-year career.

“Dans la peau de Jacques Chirac” — which roughly translates as “Being Jacques Chirac” — is a 90-minute collage of archive clips exposing the 73-year-old president’s many political U-turns during his long rise to power.

From his first steps as a politician in 1967, Mr. Chirac is portrayed as a smooth operator, tirelessly crisscrossing the country to canvass voters and shake hands with anyone in sight — even once with a dog.

But the film skewers Mr. Chirac over the many policy flip-flops — on everything from Spain’s entry into the European Union to tax cuts and road safety — that have earned him the nickname “the weather vane.”

Shot by two well-known television satirists, Karl Zero and Michel Royer, and produced by the Oscar-winning team that made “March of the Penguins,” the film opens in about 100 French cinemas today.

No French television network would touch the movie, the first to ridicule a serving French president, even though it is being released in a political climate dominated by what the left-wing newspaper Liberation calls “Chiracophobia: the new national sport.”

Earlier this year, the best-selling book “The Tragedy of the President,” by political journalist Franz-Olivier Giesbert, blamed Mr. Chirac for a national drift into inertia, division and debt.

As a judgment on Mr. Chirac’s legacy, the movie contrasts starkly with the elegant big-screen tribute paid to the late president Francois Mitterrand in last year’s “The Walker of the Champ-de-Mars.”

Dubbed an “unauthorized biography,” it is narrated as a fake confession, co-written by Mr. Zero and a journalist from the right-wing Le Figaro newspaper and with a voice-over by a highly convincing Chirac impersonator.

With its mix of archival material and irreverence, it invites a clear parallel with U.S. filmmaker Michael Moore’s award-winning “Fahrenheit 9/11” — a fierce broadside against President Bush’s administration.

However, Mr. Zero denies having a political agenda and points out that Mr. Chirac is not planning to stand for a third term in next year’s election.

According to the director, “It’s just the story of a guy who’s out to make it … living out a high-flying destiny, thanks to a kind of insolent good luck that turns each of his mistakes into a success.”

“Underneath it all, he is very human; it’s really quite touching at times.”

For Mr. Chirac, the movie argues, politics has been neither a passion nor a vocation but a job, carried out with a kind of dogged determination.

The narrator admits to being driven by a blind thirst for power despite having no real vision for France.

“The tragedy is that I have no political ideas — except perhaps, like [former president Gen. Charles] de Gaulle, a certain idea of France that doesn’t relate to anything in today’s world,” he comments.

Mr. Chirac’s rivals past and present — from his predecessor Mr. Mitterrand to his former protege-turned-rival, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy — are not spared by the film’s biting commentary.

Mr. Zero told reporters at the Cannes Film Festival that he was “waiting for a phone call from the president’s office to screen it to the president.”

“I hope [his wife] Bernadette won’t be there. But I am sure that Jacques Chirac will acknowledge that I have made an honest film.”

He also said the DVD version of the film would be updated to include a reference to the Clearstream dirty tricks scandal — a complex affair that has exposed the bitter enmity between Mr. Chirac and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, and Mr. Sarkozy, their common rival.

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