A biopic of Charles de Gaulle, Mardi Gras and Clean up Australia Day – a busy weekend all round in beautiful, downtown Darlinghurst!
Admittedly, having participated – and enjoyed – many a Mardi Gras and Clean Up Australia Day, my curiosity was most piqued by Gabriel Le Bomin's film ‘De Gaulle’, part of this year’s French Film Festival. I don’t/didn’t know much about De Gaulle except that he was a WW2 hero, had a Downs Syndrome little girl who he adored, and had a funny hat and nose that were easy to caricature.
‘De Gaulle’ covers the period in 1940 – only two months, May and June – where France was defeated by the Germans until De Gaulle (played by Lambert Wilson) made his first speech on BBC Radio from London. According to history and the film he was an instant ‘hit’, entering the world’s political stage via the microphone and turning round history using the medium of radio. Could it happen now? Just look at the insurrections that social media has catalysed in the last 12 months and it is clear that De Gaulle was one of the early believers in, and user of the power of the media message.
The film drills down on the period when De Gaulle was called back to Paris from the Front, made ‘General’ de Gaulle and named Deputy Secretary of State. It fleshes out his relationship with the highly stressed and unsure President Paul Reynaud (Olivier Gourmet) and introduces the political alignment De Gaulle shared with Internal Affairs minister Georges Mandel (Gilles Cohen). This latter relationship was particularly interesting, as Mandel explains to De Gaulle in one scene that his relationship with Reynaud’s Government, which had made so many bad decisions, along with his Jewish heritage, meant that De Gaulle was just about the only man standing who could influence France to fight should President Reynaud stumble.
Fascinating too is the portrayal of De Gaulle’s relationships with Marshal Pétain (Philippe Laudenbach) and General Weygand (Alain Lenglet), blatantly suggesting that the French military’s interest in a peace agreement with Germany was as much a part of a greater strategy to become a favoured part of the new German world order than it was an effort to save French lives.
Off course, and influentially, there is the relationship of De Gaulle with that other totally bigger-than-life figure Winston Churchill (Tim Hudson). Churchill backs De Gaulle and is crucial in De Gaulle establishing a regular BBC radio segment that spoke directly to, and of, the French Resistance. Until Churchill’s backing, little was known of this Frenchman of military background outside France. With the help of Churchill, De Gaulle quickly became a critical WW2 player on the world’s stage.
As a film, you might get a little bored. De Gaulle had a thrilling life. Though the film sticks to historical fact, a bit more of thrill factor could have been injected without cheapening the product. It was wartime after all, De Gaulle lost contact with his family who fled France on one of three ships that wasn't bombed as it left Brittany, he was accused of treason by the new French Government, his conversations with the eccentric Churchill could have gone many ways ... Plenty of thrill factor in the truths of his life!
Captured, however, was De Gaulle’s resolute and unbending belief that he was always ‘right’, a political position that, post WW2, would cause quite a number of problems, particularly in his relationships with other world leaders.