Landry, the protagonist, is an independentist, social democrat, Premier of Quebec, fighting for the re-election of the Parti Québécois in the hope of obtaining his life's dream: the independence of Quebec from Canada. His opponents in the election, Jean Charest of the Parti Libéral du Québec (PLQ) and Mario Dumont of the Action démocratique du Québec (ADQ), are rarely seen in the film.
Along with his team, he goes through an intense experience in two periods. The first half of the campaign goes smoothly: Landry is relaxed and confident. After having fought for its very life, the party is popular again and leads the polls. The televised leaders' debate is the turning point. During the debate, Charest confronts Landry with a quotation (said that very day and soon to become controversial) from Jacques Parizeau, the former PQ premier. In the following days, this sparks a controversy that will be known as the Parizeau Affair. From then on, a second period begins. The PQ loses some steam. Charest slowly surpasses him in the polls.
Often trapped by insistent, forceful questions by reporters, he shares with the team his impression that journalists are unjustly harassing him and the party's campaign. After being, in turn, anxious, angry, and sometimes morose, he accepts the coming ineluctable defeat with serenity, but with much emotion, with the comfort of his loved ones and colleagues.
Landry's strategist team is consisted of: Richard Nadeau, Brigitte Pelletier, Hubert Bolduc, Denis Hardy, Frederic Alberro, Marie-Johanne Nadeau, Nathalie Verger, Pierre Langlois, Éric Côté and Jacques Wilkins.
In 2002, the poll numbers for the Parti Québécois fell sharply. The PQ government had been in power for two mandates and was seen as worn-out by some. An important part of the PQ's support went to the Action Démocratique du Québec and its young leader, Mario Dumont, and some to the Liberal Party of Quebec. It is under this dramatic situation for the PQ followers that Landry underwent a revitalization of the party and its image. The PQ was aided by the fall popularity of the ADQ's ideas as their conservative nature was uncovered, and by social democratic measures taken by the PQ government like the passing of the Act to combat poverty and social exclusion. The Parti Québécois succeeded in gaining back popularity in the beginning of 2004 to take the lead in the public opinion polls again. The PQ felt confident again to take upon a singular task: to become the first Quebec government in more than forty years to win a third mandate.
It is at the time of the downfall of 2002 that Labrecque decided to work on bringing about a movie about the coming election. He stated that, for this election, he believed the PQ had a lot to win if it succeeded, and a lot to lose if it did not: the re-election of the party could bring Quebec to independence, while a loss had the potential of hurting the sovereigntist movement, perhaps halting it for years.
The 2003 Quebec election itself happened over the backdrop of the war in Iraq. The principal battles in that war took place during the first half of the campaign, diverting the attention of the media and the population. Landry became known for his custom of wearing the white ribbon worn by Quebecers in favour of peace. The wearing of this ribbon was soon adopted by the two other main party leaders, Charest and Dumont.
Despite a PQ comeback, Charest presented himself as a viable alternative for people in desire of change, especially during the leaders' debate. Also, the Parizeau Affair is said to have harmed Landry's campaign up to election day. The PQ lead vanished mid-campaign, and the Parti Libéral won the election.
The publicity acquired by the initial controversy partly assured the movie an immense success in theatres. In its first days, at the Ex-Centris theatre, where it was first shown in Montreal, the movie was often sold-out several hours before presentation. After it had opened, the consensus of the viewing public (along with the opinion of some critics and other journalists) was that the initial media presentation of the movie was misrepresentative of the complete work. The movie managed to spark public debate in the media about the (often described as unfair and aggressive) attitudes of Quebec journalists towards politicians and politics (and vice versa).
The movie also inscribed a catch phrase into Quebec pop culture: Audi alteram partem. During the movie, the sentence, Latin for listen to the other side, was repeatedly uttered by Landry to counteract the barrage of questions from reporters about the Parizeau Affair. It was meant to tell the reporters not to judge Parizeau before hearing his side (he was to give a press conference later that day) and to signify that he wished to wait for Parizeau to speak before making himself hasty comments. Landry studied Latin in college and has a reputation of liking to quote Latin phrases.
The way Landry acts in this movie surprised many. Landry is seen as a man of pride and high culture by many Quebecers, something that sometimes puts a distance between a public figure and the people in Quebec. Rather than hurting his reputation, his Québécois swearing broke that bourgeois image in some ways. Also, his sense of humour and humanity throughout the movie was felt by many viewers. Those seldom before seen aspects of the man subsequently inspired a popular wave of sympathy for him.