(Financial Times; January 20/January 21, 2007)
Politics, they say, is show business for ugly people. Naturally the French are an exception.
Few French politicians could be described as truly ugly. Some are famously fragrant. Besides, French politics has traditionally tended more towards high literary drama than low show business.
Dominique de Villepin, France's prime minister, is a case in point. This lustrously haired poet-politician could surely have earned a fortune on the silver screen or in modelling, like his daughter and son, but has opted for the political salon and the library over the film studio and the catwalk.
While foreign mnister, Mr de Villepin succeeded in citing Montaigne, Villon, Byron, Rimbaud, Holderlin, Dante, Primo Levi and Garcia Lorca in a single speech on Europe, while also referring to the tribulations of Hamlet and the temptations of Faust. On a trip to London this week, Mr de Villepin made a point of investing Harold Pinter, the scabrous playwright, into the Légion d'Honneur.
Nicolas Sarkozy, perhaps the most pulchritudinously challenged of the current crop of presidential contenders, has much of the show business about him and loves hanging out with actors and rock stars such as Jean Reno and Johnny Hallyday. Lest the French think him too vulgar, however, Mr Sarkozy has given one of France's most reputed writers free access to his presidential campaign to research a play about the "existential dimension of a politician. Yasmina Reza, most famous for her play Art, is promishing to publish her work in September.
Ms Reza has yet to choose a name for the play, prompting speculation. She could perhaps draw inspiration from the titles -- if not the plot-lines -- of earlier literary works. Waiting for Sarko (pace Beckett), would seem too retrospective. The Myth of Sisyphus (Camus) a little too bleak. The Game of Love ad Chance (Marivaux) could be more appropriate. Thankfully, Ms.Reza has already penned the God of Carnage.
No doubt the balletic Ségolène Royal, La Fille Mal Gardée (The Unguarded Maiden) of the Socialist party, would consider such traditional literary works rather passé as they lack any reader participation. If Ms Reza were ever to write a play about Ms Royal's campaign, she could include alternative endings depending on audience preference.
Mr Sarkozy's leftwing rival has been encouraging voters to contribute their own policy ideas to her interactive website, Desires for the Future, hinting that she will use them to help cure her sometimes hypochondraic compatriots of their Imaginary Illness (Molière).
One observer has compared this approach to the Second Life phenomenon on the internet in which participants can invent new cyber personalities, construct alternative realities and live out their dreams. Only, in France, of course, it would be called La Ségonde Vie.