“Debates around biopics always end up revolving around true and false”

“Debates around biopics always end up revolving around true and false”


N apoléon arrives on horseback. Preceding him are Abbé Pierre, Florence Arthaud, Bernard Tapie, Bernadette Chirac, Pierre Goldman, Golda Meir, Brigitte Bardot, Robert Oppenheimer, Simone Veil, Elvis Presley, Céline Dion, Elizabeth II… These illustrious characters have recently been the subject, in film or TV series, a “biopic” (for biographical picture ), this way of retracing on screen the life or a slice of life of a celebrity.

The biopic is as old as cinema, but the release, in 2007, of La Môme, with Marion Cotillard as Edith Piaf – 6 million admissions in France, an Oscar for the actress – boosted a genre whose success, since , does not deny itself. First in music, a field which makes it possible to combine sound and image, the intimate and the stage (and to boost record sales). More broadly, the planet likes to commune around icons, not without the risk of falling into hagiography or academicism.

The novelty, and we bet that it will grow, is the desire to dig into characters from the present in order to surf on the living memory. Brigitte Bardot, Bernadette Chirac, Céline Dion are alive. Bernard Tapie died in 2021. Simone Veil in 2017. Elizabeth II ended up passing away before the broadcast of seasons 5 and 6 of The Crown – the latter has been available since mid-November on Netflix.

Conflicting public emotions

These personalities have a status to defend, or their loved ones take care of it. This leads to some legal friction, and often a sign stuck to the film which serves as a shield against lawsuits: “ This is a fiction, freely inspired by a true story. » The formula is such a chestnut that in Bernadette , directed by Léa Domenach and released on October 4, with Catherine Deneuve as Ms. Chirac, it is sung by a religious choir.

Let us note the dose of hypocrisy that the biopics of today carry. Their authors swear that they are plowing the romantic furrow, sometimes already by changing the name of the celebrity – according to Valérie Lemercier, her Aline (2020) has a “scent of Céline Dion” . But they also know that, to achieve success, it is necessary to satisfy two contradictory public emotions.

The character filmed must be familiar with the personality engraved in the collective unconscious, for example by choosing actresses and actors playing mimicry – appearance, voice, haircut… But the public also wants intimacy, they want to enter the room to sleep with “exceptional people”. He wants to see what even the paparazzi can’t capture. So it doesn’t matter if the story takes liberties with the truth.

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