Socialist Worker

The Last Mitterrand — a gripping tale of a president in decline

by Chris Nineham
Issue No. 1963

The Last Mitterrand
Directed by Robert Guédiguian

A film about former French president Francois Mitterrand’s memoirs may not sound too promising, but The Last Mitterrand is a treat.

It is based on real events. Near the end of his term (1981-94) the Socialist Party president asked a young journalist to interview him and turn the interviews into a memoir.

The film is about their complex relationship but it also casts light on the recent history of the left.

Mitterrand wears his cynicism as a badge of honour, and predicts that he will be the last human president. “After me there will be only businessmen and accountants,” he says.

The young journalist is partly seduced—just as France was for a while in the early 1980s. But he is also uneasy about Mitterrand’s role during the Second World War Vichy government. When he’s not spellbound by the old man he suspects his charm is a cover for something much worse.

At one point he screws up the courage to ask, “If you’re right that big business is taking over everything, surely that will mean an increase in class struggle?”

Mitterrand is thrown by the direct logic of the question. In the end all he can do is shrug his shoulders and say, “The days of ideals are over.” In this moment and a few others the man’s charm is stripped away.

He may have been able to communicate with workers, but his politics of compromise paved the way for neo-liberalism. Director Guédiguian brings the old and the new into a wonderful tension in this film.

There is a website in French about the film under its original French title

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Sat 13 Aug 2005, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1963
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