A brisk, fascinating chronicle of a pre-Carla Bruni Nicolas Sarkozy that time-shifts from May 6, 2007 — the day he was both elected president of France and left by his second wife, Cécilia, for good — to the five years leading up to his victory, The Conquest illuminates how much the conjugal, the extramarital, and the political are entwined in French life. The Conquest opens with this disclaimer: "Although based on real events and people, this film is a work of fiction." No subscription to Le Monde is required to make out the major players. Sarkozy (Denis Podalydès), explosive, vicious, charismatic, and short, nearly unravels after Cécilia (Florence Pernel) announces she has fallen in love with the man hired to be his publicist. Humiliated, the wavy-haired, jogging Napoleon sulks before going on the offensive, pleading with, threatening, and texting — during meetings with Jacques Chirac (Bernard Le Coq) — Cécilia, who finally agrees to come back, but only to briefly resume her professional duties during the final months of the presidential campaign. Director Xavier Durringer and his co-scripter Patrick Rotman don't refrain from showing the truly repellent side of Sarko during his rise to the highest elected office. But we also queasily admire his genius for working the crowd. And we can sympathize — up to a point — with an egomaniac who has been crushed by abandonment. Who knows — Sarko and Cécilia's knotty situation might have helped him work out a strategy for dealing with the woman with whom he now has the most complicated relationship of all: Angela Merkel.
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