And once again Canvas shows that it has a nose for good French documentaries: the Belgian channel broadcast on Sunday Un president, l’Europe et la guerre which follows President Macron during the six-month French presidency of the European Union this year. On day 55 of Macron’s Europe service, Russia invaded Ukraine. Filmmaker Guy Lagache got to witness a historic period of political diplomacy behind the scenes.
Intelligent minds, brains that work overtime, permanent stress: an atmosphere like in the sizzling hit series The West Wing. But then really.
Because of its unprecedented openness, the documentary will keep you on the edge of your seat. As a viewer, you can even listen in to a telephone conversation between Macron and Putin just before the invasion, in which the French president addresses his Russian colleague as a strict friend. “Vladimir, I don’t know where your lawyer went to school,” he snaps, arguing with Putin about the interpretation of a treaty text. When Macron tries to make him promise to talk to Biden, Putin reports that he is almost good-natured in the sports hall for a game of ice hockey and cannot say anything concrete about a date.
“He always lies,” the French chief diplomat, Emmanuel Bonne, who listens in, summarizes it bitterly.
You’ll also hear Macron talking to Boris Johnson, Mario Draghi and Olaf Scholz about what Putin is doing. And with Volodimir Zelenski, where both men sometimes speak English and you can feel the atmosphere. Chilling is the moment when Zelensky reports on the first bloody acts of war, and Macron seems to want to say: we are coming now to help you.
The one who didn’t know anything was Putin
Accompanying texts show that most European leaders were aware that Macron was being filmed and authorized the clips in which they themselves appear. The one who knew nothing about it was Putin. The Russian news agency Ria Novosti therefore tweeted angrily that the French no longer respect the diplomatic rules of negotiations. Macron and his associates have no doubt reasoned that not respecting the sovereign rights of a democratic neighbor is a much bigger faux pas.
You must have a strong stomach if you end up on the world stage as a diplomat or politician and realize that your approach can determine whether or not De Bom will fall. But I also thought: there are probably more parallels with how a power struggle is fought in, for example, the pigeon fanciers’ association than you think. It is the universal set of instruments, talking, massaging, conferring, making alliances, threatening, being strict and hoping that no one really throws the bat in the henhouse.
I was pleased to see in this film how well the diplomatic leaders of Germany and France get along.
The intense documentary contrasted sharply with the first episode of the light-hearted youth series Timmyland that same Sunday, in which Tim den Besten pretends to become a dictator, in order to show how important democracy is. Please let a little smart teenager go too Un president, l’Europe et la guerre look, about what happens when someone is a real dictator.
Renate van der Bas and Maaike Bos write columns about television five times a week.