Skip to Content

‘Quai d’Orsay’ Movie Review: is a very funny albeit specific French comedy

‘Quai d’Orsay’ Movie Review: is a very funny albeit specific French comedy


Quai d’Orsay
Written by Christophe Blain and Abel Lanzac
Directed by Bertrand Tavernier
France, 2013

Promoted as a French comedy in the spirit of In The Loop and Veep, Quai d’Orsay is a very enjoyable watch, full of wit and fun. Based on the graphic novel of the same name written by Antonin Baudry (under the pseudonym Abel Lanzac) and based on his own experiences, the film follows a young politico (Raphael Personnaz) navigating his way as a speechwriter for the French foreign minister (Thierry Lhermitte). Nearly blindsided by the hurdles of his new position, Arthur Vlaminck (Personnaz) works through no to little guidance, some in-office saboteurs, and the slamming doors and blown away papers that mark the minister’s coming and going (to the chagrin of the office cat). For most of the film, Vlaminck is working on one very important speech, one that has him running around the offices (filmed in the same building as the actual Foreign Office) and through enough drafts to have claimed a Redwood. Even though all of the names have been changed, it’s clear (even to an American) that this is based on the preparation for French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin’s 2003 speech to the U.N. against the U.S. invasion of Iraq (which put the spotlight on the to-be French Prime Minister). Not to spoil the ending, but I.R. enthusiasts and those familiar with the landmark speech will get a thrill.

9090215a-5a7a-11e2-922f-0c1a40f503f3-800x532Luckily, the story has been treated in such a way that the talk of war doesn’t spoil the fun. By replacing Iraq with Ludmenistan (a la The Great Dictator) and with Vlaminck’s bewildered narrative, the script opens the audience to watching the film without the partiality that would normally hinder both the comedy and the realism of the script. Thierry Lhermitte captures de Villepin’s larger-than-life personality in the character of Foreign Minister Alexandre Taillard de Vorms magnificently. Vigorous both in his words and his exercise, Taillard is downright charismatic, though fittingly aggressive. This element is driven home when Taillard meets with the French winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (Jane Birkin) and is a bit of a blowhard, though they both leave lunch smiling. Almost as a foil, Taillard’s chief of staff Claude Maupas is the quiet, hard-working stalwart of the office (Niels Arestrup), full of delightful shrugs and weary reaction shots. As the film’s POV, the very handsome Raphael Personnaz doesn’t have to do much other than look disheveled or exasperated, but he pulls that off well, almost too well. There are a few differences between the film and the graphic novel source material. Most importantly, Arthur’s girlfriend is changed from a nagging stay-at-home to a charming, smart schoolteacher. This element adds heart to a film that could have simply been a workplace farce, although a high-powered one.

b00889f2-5a50-11e2-922f-0c1a40f503f3-493x328French director Bertrand Tavernier may be best known for his period pieces (his latest being The Princess of Montpensier), but he brings the same attention to detail and flourish to recent politics. Focusing on the near-farcical inter-office dynamics, Tavernier maintains a remarkable pace, the most important part of comedy, without falling into parody or allegory. The film keeps the material fresh and quick while still having meaning behind it, which is inadvertently all the more topical with the current Syria debates. (In that spirit, keep an eye out for a really great in-film joke during the credits.) Although it references a very specific moment in French politics, the film transcends those boundaries through its comedy alone. For evidence, the crowd at TIFF was laughing and guffawing throughout the screening, and it’s hard to believe that they were mostly French or of a “French” comedic persuasion. Not to say that it’s a broad comedy, but those with an appreciation for wit and an inside look at the chaos of politics will thoroughly enjoy themselves if or when Quai d’Orsay hits their local indie cinema.

– Diana Drumm

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 5th to 15th, 2013. For a complete schedule of films, screening times, and ticket information, please visit the official site.