The stories told by journalists can be extremely inspirational and affecting for viewers. The authenticity of an interview has the power to change hearts and to prompt action, but what audiences are seeing isn’t always a straightforward conversation. Minor editing to frame a particular narrative is understandable, but the staging of scenes to make them more dramatic and supportive of one argument has the potential to tarnish an otherwise valid point that could have been proven without theatrics. France explores the consequences of manipulation and an obsession with getting the best shot over the sincerest content.
France de Meurs (Léa Seydoux) is a television reporter who is asked for photos nearly all day long whenever she encounters someone on the street. Through travels to war zones and to other sites of hot-button activity, France makes it her priority to create the most watchable show, going back after a dramatic reveal of emotion to reshoot the same words at a more advantageous angle. When France hits someone in front of her with her car while in traffic, she begins to experience a crisis of conscience that forces her to consider how she makes her living.
One of the opening scenes of France finds the title character posing an incendiary question to French President Emmanuel Macron, which quickly establishes her prominence and her reputation. She winks slyly at her loyal producer, Lou (Blanche Gardin), considering the whole thing to be an elaborate scripted event that has become normal and easy for her. The attitude she expresses while reporting on location with guerilla troops fighting for their lives is not much different, and any concern and honesty she does start to manifest is severely diminished by her immediate pivot to the production quality of the moment in which she has just participated.
This film’s title doubles as the name of its country of origin, which surely is no coincidence. Yet this indictment of French media and the prioritization of ratings over real human interest is not unique to that European country. While the way in which American news outlets conduct themselves may have cultural differences, the improper emphasis on salacious material and response-driven content is certainly similar. It’s at best disheartening to see what appears to be a legitimate moment of feeling reduced to a ratings stunt, and at worst overtly manipulative and deceptive.
What occurs to France outside of the spotlight, however, cannot be separated from her public persona, giving her no privacy but also indicating the difficulty of dealing with unexpected life events without anyone watching. The path that France travels from admired celebrity to an outcast in search of a return to fame is indicative of the notion of cancel culture, one that seeks to dethrone individuals when, in some cases, it is the system that is truly to blame, leaving those most responsible safe from real consequences and enduring change.
Seydoux is an internationally-known actress who has delivered performances in a range of films including Blue is the Warmest Color, The Lobster, and the recent James Bond films Spectre and No Time to Die. In this role, she begins far more enthusiastically and casually than usual but slowly retreats into herself as circumstances begin to turn her life upside down. She serves as a strong anchor for a film that often seems at risk of derailing in a way similar to France’s career. But that is its most potent asset: a skewering of a media culture where sensationalism is key and it’s all too rare to find someone who just wants to report on the story as it actually is with no added frills.
France opens in New York and Los Angeles theaters on Friday, December 10th.