Review: The World of Yesterday – Films / Reviews – France

– A dusky atmosphere surrounds the backstage secrets of presidential politics of a democracy under threat in Diastème’s film, a subtle thriller and suspenseful tragedy

Léa Drucker in The World of Yesterday

“In the last resort, every shadow is also the child of light, and only those who have known the light and the dark, have seen war and peace, rise and fall, have truly lived their lives.” Diastème’s new film, The World of Yesterday, which Pyramide will release tomorrow in French cinemas, opens with this quote from the eponymous memoir by Stefan Zweig (The World of Yesterday), written after the Nazis’ rise to power in Germany forced him into exile in Brazil. It perfectly matches the atmosphere of the almost hellish zone explored by the filmmaker, the isolated political island that is the presidency, where the fates of nations are decided in secret and with an arbitrariness more or less curtailed by current events. A place of paradoxes, where occult knowledge, the State’s underground means of action and the impossibility of controlling everything constantly clash, and mere human beings are crushed under their responsibility for a country’s future.

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“There are no other solutions, and we only have three days left.” The situation is critical for president Elisabeth de Raincy (Léa Drucker) and her secretary general Frank L’Herbier (Denis Podalydès). The former (who hides a grave illness) is unpopular as she comes to the end of a mandate which did not fulfil its promises. Now just a few days before the first round in the presidential elections, she learns that a corruption case will come to light between the two rounds, targeting the candidate that was chosen by her political party to guarantee her succession. A disaster is therefore on the horizon, especially since polls already give the far-right candidate chances of winning that are nearly equal as those of the corrupted candidate now on borrowed time (he does not know about the revelation to come, and is never made aware of the Damocles sword hanging over his head). Turning to secret services (“this is a delicate operation, it must remain a secret, and involve trustworthy people”), the president and her secretary general, linked by a very old professional bond, desperately search for a last minute solution, all the while facing their respective, overwhelming responsibilities of the general situation, and the hazards of their usual work life (inauguration ceremony, terrorist attack, etc).

Giving a Greek tragedy patina and an Elizabethan, baroque theatre format to the secretive milieu that are the corridors of contemporary politics, Diastème crafts a film that is very interesting because it is slightly offbeat. Its realism is guaranteed both by its accurate recreation of the codes of the state sphere, and by the sharp dialogue running through the script (written by the director in collaboration with famous political investigative journalists Fabrice Lhomme and Gérard Davet, as well as Christophe Honoré). Carried by the excellent Léa Drucker and Denis Podalydès, The World of Yesterday quickly but carefully sketches out other figures, such as the bodyguard (Alban Lenoir), the Prime Minister (Benjamin Biolay), the far-right candidate (Thierry Godard) and his rival (Jacques Weber), who form a small shadowplay theatre where pretences and painful truths, intimacy and distance, strengths and weaknesses, righteousness and ruse, shadowing some and dodging others all interplay, while the world sinks into darkness and difficult decisions with heavy consequences must be taken.

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Produced by Fin Août Productions, The World of Yesterday is sold internationally by Pyramide.

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(Translated from French)

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