As the director himself has explained, this film was inspired by similar films from the Anglosphere, such as "The Queen", that is: not really "docudramas" but cinematic versions of real events involving contemporaty politicians. And just like similar films, "La Conquete" works best for those who know enough about the events, and individuals, to recognise them, but not so much as to already know everything that is going on.
Personally, I have been keeping an eye on French politics for the last couple of decades or so; and Franz-Olivier Giesbert's series of biographies is informative in the extreme - as are the documentaries directed by Patrick Rotman, the writer of "La Conquete". So, to me, there wasn't all that much that was really new.
I greatly enjoyed this film (and I have already watched the DVD a few times), so I recommend it without reservation. In more detail, what I liked most (and least) about it was:
- most actors are excellent in their portrayals. Above all, Bernard Le Coq as President Jacques Chirac is astounding. He hasn't just played Chirac - he has become him. It was difficult for me to remember that I was watching an actor. The mannerisms, the expressions, the patterns of speech - they're all there, and yet he also conveys the thoughts behind those mannerisms. I think that is the best impersonation by an actor of a living person that I have ever seen on screen. - Samuel Labarthe as Dominique de Villepin was also very good. - the script accurately conveys the known events of the last couple of years before Sarkozy's election, with a few scenes that are convincing speculations(?).
The not-so-good (and why I reluctantly did not give it 5 stars):
- I hate to say that about an obviously fine actor, but - Denis Podalydès's portrayal of Nicolas Sarkozy is lacking - nowhere in the league of Bernard Le Coq as Chirac. It's as if Le Coq fully understood what Chirac is about, and Podalydès not relating to Sarkozy to the same extent. Podalydès gives a good interpretation of the hyperactive, let's-get-to-the-point Sarkozy, who can also be rather bitter and resentful. However, Nicolas Sarkozy himself can also be far more relaxed, and able to laugh at himself, as is obvious from some of his interviews (including those for Patrick Rotman's documentary on Chirac). That side of Sarkozy was hardly ever visible in "La Conquete". Also, the chemistry between Podalydès's Sarkozy and Florence Pernel's Cecilia never matched that which did seem obvious between their real-life counterparts in their happier times. The scenes between Podalydès and Pernel are mostly awkward.
The above is the only flaw in an otherwise perfect film - but it remains a major flaw. Hence the 4 stars. Yet, I recommend this film without reservation.