The President's Wife (Bernadette) - Film Review (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2024)

The President's Wife (Bernadette) - Film Review (Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2024)

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Posted 2024-03-01 by Nicholas Gordonfollow
Iconic French actress Catherine Deneuve plays iconic former French first lady Bernadette Chirac in this light-hearted political comedy based on real events. When husband Jacques Chirac (played by Michel Vuillermoz) becomes French president, Bernadette finds herself isolated and ignored. Worse, the public sees her as cold, out-of-touch and stuck-up. So Bernadette sets out to rectify her image: she will improve her popularity and gain influence with her husband, with all the resultant hypocrisy and double-dealing that will entail.



The President's Wife opens as Jacques Chirac is swept to the presidency in 1997. The pinnacle of a long political career, Chirac's rise is courtesy of many advisors, including his daughter who works as a senior aide to her father. But in her mind Bernadette is just as responsible, having been the faithful political spouse for decades (especially when her husband's infidelity was an open secret; a scene in The President's Wife shows Jacques missing in action during the night of Princess Diana's death because he is shacked up with an Italian actress).

Bernadette is then surprised when Jacques ignores her when he becomes president, literally pushing her out the door during a staff meeting. A number of gaffes early on in Jacques' administration (including a colourful, on-camera denunciation of a political rival) doesn't help endear Bernadette to her husband or his advisors.

To prevent future blunders, Bernadette's daughter forces on her mother a media advisor (played by Denis Podalydes). But instead of the gaffe-preventing role he has been hired for, Bernadette enlists him for a political makeover mission. She takes to the campaign trail, becomes the lead patron of a children's charity and gets a makeover from Karl Lagerfeld. All in the hope of becoming a modern and well-liked first lady.

The President's Wife claims to be fiction (a disclaimer is issued at the start of the film, in song, no less) but there is obviously truth involved. Where that truth is exactly would be good to know (was Jacques really with a lover the night of Princess Diana's death?) but the film seems disinterested in historical accuracy, preferring a breezier approach which allows for plenty of wry humour and gentle political satire. The result is a bit like a cross between The West Wing and a soap opera.

Catherine Deneuve is entirely wonderful here, every other character in the film is confined to orbiting around her. That includes Michel Vuillermoz's Jacques Chirac, who comes across as someone with little political acumen and even less charisma. Bernadette is much more interesting - a woman who played the political game just like her husband did, and now wants a share of the victory.

The President's Wife (Bernadette) is playing nationally as part of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 2024. Find information on session times, locations and tickets on the festival's official website .

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279271 - 2024-02-29 03:00:32

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