The boy wonder of French politics

Emmanuel Macon. Photo: NETFLIX

Now that he rules France — first by winning the presidency and when his party won a majority in the French parliamentary election last month — Emmanuel Macron has become a subject of close scrutiny. The Netflix documentary Emmanuel Macron: Behind The Rise won’t give you deep insight into the remarkable rise of the youngest French president in history; the film works, instead, as a campaign history and a personality sketch of this boyish, industrious, intelligent politician who, at first, seemed surprised by his own ascendancy.

Hardly critical, though not entirely propaganda, it’s a documentary mainly for Macron fans. Those who look for tough policy debates will be disappointed. Many times I wished the filmmaker would push further into a specific territory — the economy, the EU, terrorism — so we could understand the way Macron thinks. But there’s nothing of the sort. The 83-minute film is decidedly the success story of an underdog, and the few glitches Macron faces along the way (his comment about colonialism, or when a protester throws an egg at him) are there for dramatic colour.

Still, because Macron, against the odds, has assumed a position of great power, a record of his life is worth watching. The film was directed by Yann L’Henoret, who has made several television docs, and the strength of Behind The Rise is the time it has spent with the then-candidate. The filmmakers began following Macron in November 2016, five months before the first-round election, when he was still trailing other candidates in third or fourth place and was dismissed by nearly everyone. So we listen to his campaign meetings, see him work with young aides, and follow him when he makes two hall speeches. All key events in his campaign are covered and briskly edited into a series of dramatic moments, from the time he’s forced to defend his comment that French colonialism is “a crime against humanity” to when he bats off the rumour that he’s homosexual, to the turning point when Francois Fillon of the Republicans suffers a big blowout after nepotism charges and slips away in the polls.

The filmmakers must have felt a real high when Macron defied the pundits and finally led the poll, before going on to win both rounds of the election, seeing off Marine Le Pen to the delight of the entire European Union. But it would have been interesting, too (maybe even more interesting) if Macron and his young team hadn’t won, if the underdog narrative didn’t have a happy ending. The drama of victory is instantaneous, verging on Hollywoodism, but defeat is melancholic, profound and more European. Macron gets to write history because he wins. He could’ve given us a better movie if he’d lost.