Andy Stowe reviews the French political drama Baron Noir
Did you know that some people sign up to the thirty-day free trial on Amazon Prime, watch everything they want to, then cancel the subscription because most of the content is dross?
Labour Party members, blessed as they are to be in an organisation in which everyone has the highest political and personal integrity, might want to try doing that if they fancy getting a glimpse of an alternative reality where politics is a base and dirty business.
The French Socialist Party (PS) is almost entirely composed of cynics, backstabbers, schemers and rogues without a shred of personal principle or their dupes. Its youth wing made up of teenagers from affluent families is a bureaucratic stage army which is only for packing meetings to advance the plans of careerists. Such at least is the conclusion to be drawn after viewing the TV series Baron Noir which is currently being streamed on Prime.
The series envisages a very different France, one in which the PS presidential candidate romped to victory rather than coming fifth with 6.5% of the vote and in which it has a parliamentary majority and not 10% of the seats. This is a party in which cabinet ministers make cuts “because they have to”, make sure their kids get places in the most prestigious schools and use money scammed for campaign expenses to pay for divorces. That’s to say nothing of destroying evidence to thwart prosecutions, rigging elections and channelling public money to cronies. François Fillon, a former prime minister and presidential candidate’s recent two-year sentence for embezzling €1 million of public funds is proof that this sort of behaviour isn’t outside the realms of possibility. Adding to the realism of the series is the fact that the names of real parties are used. Even Socialist Resistance’s French co-thinkers in the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste make an appearance, though the writers were confusing them with another international socialist current by giving them a leader who is a prominent academic willing to turn a blind eye to financial shenanigans.
Philippe Rickwaert, played by Kad Merad, is that variety of socialist who came from a rough background and found some sort of salvation in politics. He still believes that everything he does is done for the people he emerged from. That’s how he justifies the corruption, intimidation and contempt for democracy that make up his political skill set. His socialism has nothing to do with working class self-organisation. It’s all about patronage, manoeuvres and shafting people who did you wrong. On the walls of his flat there are posters from the class struggle of previous decades but his relationship to the working class is entirely parasitic, something mercifully unknown in the British Labour Party.
For those of us who see politics as fundamentally about ideology and choosing sides in the class struggle, Baron Noir provides a bit of an insight into the minds of our opponents for whom it’s more about personal advantage and deal making. It’s a squalid, unedifying world without idealism in which bureaucratic victories are more important than the activity of the working class.
If you do take out that free trial subscription you should also use it to binge on another superb French series, The Bureau which is set in the still murkier world of the French intelligence services.