1 APRIL 2014


You may have met the understated comedy's writer. Although a fictitious name, Abel Lanzac, was used for the author like for the other characters, it was French diplomat Antonin Baudry who projected his personal experience working with Dominique de Villepin, well known to U.N. observers, particularly during the U.S. preparations for war on Iraq -- whose name, by the way, was similarly shifted. "Chic Dominique" became "Alexandre Taillard de Worms," as his arrivals and departures into offices were like hurricanes; papers flying, furniture shaking, and staff stunned and perplexed. The most dangerous enemy is fear, he repeated, the world was falling apart.

His counterparts in big powers, like the U.S., have thousands of assistants, he philosophizes, but he has only a tight ship -- actually a dingy -- from which to operate. Always elegant, even when jogging along the nearby Seine river, he is a man of many words, very selectively picked from his favourite book of quotations by Heraclitus. His special assistant "Arthur" has an almost impossible task of handling "language." Briefly, it meant writing the Minister's speeches. Initially, everything went wrong. Arthur wore the wrong informal clothes to the interview, entering with muddy shoes to a formal vast sanctuary when spit polish is de rigueur. Yet the Minister, who threw fits and demanded changes, took a liking to him. So did the most important character, the Director General, an elegant substantive, decent practitioner, who actually evaded certain catastrophes with the same soft voice in which he persuaded the vocal Minister with his viewpoints.

Personal internal maneuvers within the huge building were evident but a unified team spirit evolved at the approach of any crisis. The Minister's repeated demand for transparency, brevity, and originality inevitably brought him back to a quotation from Heraclitus, or to an extract from an obscure poet he once admired. Two U.N. occasions were figured. Much preparation went into his speech at the General Assembly, with Mr. de Worms stressing he would address "heads of state not bookkeepers." The other was a crucial appearance at the Security Council, presumably just before the invasion of Iraq, highlighting the peaceful role of the Organization.

The Speechwriter gets to find out how appreciated he is -- despite shouts and murmurs -- when his habitually distant and reserved boss joined him at the U.N.'s Men's Room and later when he extended his hand for a high-five.