The Kremlin suffocated even before the broadcast of images from France 2. In a statement released on Tuesday, June 28, Moscow regrets that France “does not respect the diplomatic rules of negotiation and broadcasts transcripts of conversations between the two presidents” . In front of their screen, this Thursday, June 30 from 9:10 p.m., Vladimir Putin’s translators will carefully watch A President, Europe and War and they are not at the end of their surprises…
For four months, seven days a week, Guy Lagache put his camera in the diplomatic cell of the Élysée, at the heart of the management of foreign affairs under Emmanuel Macron. The journalist had plans to make a documentary on the French presidency of the Council of the European Union, from January to June. “We wanted to make a very political film on the functioning of Europe, and that’s what seduced Emmanuel Macron, explains Philippe Pécoul, one of the producers of the documentary. But because of the events, the political object of the film is became Ukraine.”
A President, Europe and the War reveals a succession of diplomatic scenes, each more incredible than the next. The film first follows the president in his Falcon to the European Parliament on January 19, then to Moscow for the “giant table” discussion with Putin or even in the corridors of the Maryinsky Palace in kyiv, where French diplomats are tearing their hair out to secure commercial contracts with the Ukrainians before the start of the conflict.
Then comes the time of war. At the Élysée, Emmanuel Macron maintains dialogue with Vladimir Poutine with the ultimate hope of avoiding an invasion. On February 20, Guy Lagache is authorized to film a 1h45 phone call between the two presidents, from the French diplomatic cell. On screen, the sequence lasts thirteen minutes and consists mainly, in terms of images, of filming a telephone handset. But it will undoubtedly remain in the history of television.
The conversation goes through all the emotional phases: from anger (“I don’t know where your lawyer learned the law, but in a democratic country, it’s not the separatists who make the law”, says Macron) to frustration (“Our dear colleague Zelensky is doing nothing, he is lying to you”, asserts Putin), passing through lies (“You said that the Minsk agreements had to be reviewed”, claims the Russian, before the Frenchman retorts “I never said that”) or connivance (“I do my best to push the Ukrainians, you know it”, points out Macron, “I know it”, replies Putin). The exchange ends in a burst of laughter, just four days before the start of the Russian invasion.
If his documentary could cause some diplomatic turmoil, Guy Lagache explains that he took particular care not to disclose compromising elements for national security or French diplomacy. “I made a film in responsibility, with a singular gravity and at the height of the historical event which unfolded before my eyes, testifies the former presenter of the program Capital. It was important to make a film which allows to measure the historical moment we are going through and to explain to the French public the complexity of diplomatic relations, from the point of view of France and the European Union.”
The Élysée was thus able to view the final images, without however having the right to inspect or the possibility of modifying the film. On the first day of the war, February 25, we can thus discover an adviser who writes the presidential speech while smoking a cigarette inside the Castle (but open window)… The following sequence, in which the warlord Macron records his speech to the nation and is taken over by his wife, Brigitte – “I find that there is no tone. Pardon, my heart” – turns out to be just as tasty.
Guy Lagache had access to these moments thanks to a permanent presence at the Élysée, arriving every morning around 7 a.m. to wait for the opportunity to shoot, alone with his small camera or his mobile phone. He himself says he filmed “with his feet” for his first steps as a cameraman, even if this inexperience is absolutely not seen on screen. “I had to be persuasive and above all, despite my presence during certain conversations, my access remained very limited, underlines the journalist. I immersed myself in the diplomatic cell, often without filming, in order to try to understand and make a documentary that puts these events into perspective.”
With conversations between heads of state, behind-the-scenes negotiations of advisers and real-time analyzes by diplomats, the film offers an unprecedented vision of the exercise of power. A prominent example takes place on Sunday February 27, when Putin raised the nuclear threat for the first time. That same afternoon, the camera accompanies the head of the diplomatic unit, Emmanuel Bonne, to his office at the Élysée. In shirt sleeves, he replies phlegmatically “we are also a nuclear power, we can retaliate”, before letting go, almost lightly: “It’s the big game there, it’s no longer funny.”
To close his film, Guy Lagache was able to accompany Emmanuel Macron during his trip to kyiv, and interview him at length on the return train. The president can then explain his line of conduct on Ukraine and vis-à-vis Russia. “What matters to me is to ensure that this conflict does not spread, that Ukraine can regain control and that Europeans remain united”, poses the head of state. After the broadcast of these images, it remains to be seen how all these leaders will react.