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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

"The Artist" - a truly French success story?

It has been the talk of France over the past couple of days, the success of the film "The Artist" at this year's Oscars.

(screenshot from "The Artist" trailer)

The film, directed by the man by with an almost unpronouncable name (pity the poor Americans) Michel Hazanavicius, and starring Jean Dujardin picked up five statuettes, including Best Director, Film and Actor.

Without wanting to appear entirely churlish, how much is the gongification of the film and those involved down to the quality of what was up on the Big Screen and how much is due to a "master of movie industry promotion" Harvey Weinstein?

Is the film really a French success or just another example of how much power Weinstein wields in Hollywood?

Yes it's a film worth seeing. It's enjoyable and in a review when it first went on general release here in France, there was the recommendation here that, "If there's one film - just one single film - you should absolutely go to see this year it has to be 'The Artist'."

It's delightful, immensely entertaining and beautifully shot; "A pastiche…but lovingly made and extremely watchable," is how Screen International described it, and that was pretty much spot on.

When it premiered at Cannes, the long journey to international recognition was given one heck of a boost when Dujardin picked up Best Actor.

With a canny eye for what might appeal, Weinstein had already picked up the distribution rights before Cannes and by the time the film went on general release here in France in October, there were already rumours that it might be nominated in the main section of the Oscars and not consigned to the Foreign Picture category.

Its appeal was obvious.

Although not exactly original in being a silent film (after all how did the industry begin?) it was different enough to the 3D, special FX, kitchen sink sort of blockbuster diet the movie-going public is so often fed.

And what had originally been the very source of Hazanavicius' difficulties when he first came up with the idea in the 1990s but failed to get the funding, suddenly became one of its strengths as the promotional juggernaut switched up a gear.

Different equalled allure.

It paid dividends with the buzz from successive awards ceremonies including Golden Globes, British Baftas and French Césars (although in the case of the last, not Best Actor for Dujardin) combining with a formidable charm offensive to woo the Academy members who vote for the Oscars.

Throw in the theme of the film (Hollywood), where it was shot (Hollywood) and the homage it paid to several other (Hollywood) films and it surely had "winner" written all over it.

Plus there was no real language barrier to overcome.

Yes it is a French film directed by a Frenchman, starring French actors and produced by another Frenchman in the form of Thomas Langmann the son of the late (Oscar-winning) French director Claude Berri.

But equally its success is arguably very US driven.

Although it'll provide an international and financial boost to the careers of those involved especially Hazanavicius, his partner Bérénice Bejo and perhaps most notably Dujardin - provided they're willing to make as much of a commitment to living and working in Hollywood - it's undeniably also a tribute to the power and influence of one man - Harvey Weinstein.

Monday, 27 February 2012

"CHEESE" - it's the annual Salon d'Agriculture...and election year

Watching the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, making his way around the annual Salon d'Agriculture in Paris on Saturday was more than just a little surreal.

Salon d'Agriculture (screenshot TF1 news)

Surrounded by a heaving scrum of journalists armed with microphones and cameras, Sarkozy spent over four hours at the show in his official capacity but, this being an election year, much more was riding on his presence and of course his behaviour.

Few will forget his now infamous 2008 visit to the show and the "Casse toi, pauvre con" mark he left on it.

And, on several occasions since, he has not exactly endeared himself to France's farmers with some of his comments.

He's also a devout towny - born and bred - who, according to political journalist Michaël Darmon, has always insisted that when he has been zapping around the country in his official capacity, he manages to avoid, in so far as possible, staying overnight in "the provinces".

But Darmon says Sarkozy's advisors have done their work and he also seems to have realised the importance of appearing to be a friend of the country's farmers, to such an extent that a recent opinion poll showed him to be well ahead in their voting intentions.

Farmers may have apparently been won over, but does anybody else really believe that Sarkozy actually enjoys nibbling on the smelliest of cheeses, watching cows being milked or having to pat a handsome horse?

Nicolas Sarkozy at the Salon d'Agriculture (screenshot TF1 news)

Somehow it just all seems to be too contrived and so very far from the obvious enjoyment displayed by his predecessor, Jacques Chirac, who always appeared to be at ease taking a healthy swig of whatever was pressed into his hand or tucking in to regional produce.

Still, four hours of pressing the flesh and proving to the French electorate that he is every much a child of rural France as the next man or woman is an essential part of Sarkozy's road to re-election.

And it's one all the other candidates will have to endure or enjoy if they wish to replace him at the Elysée palace.

The day after Sarkozy's visit, it was the turn of François Bayrou, leader of the centrist Mouvement démocrate (Democratic Movement, MoDem) party and there was no real difficulty for the "son of a farming family" as he is always eager to point out.

Once again Bayrou appeared to be in his element

Tuesday should be more "interesting" though as the Socialist party candidate François Hollande has promised to spend a marathon 10 hours at the show.

That's an awful lot of cheese!

Saturday, 25 February 2012

"The Artist" triumphs at the Césars but there's no award for Jean Dujardin

French actor Jean Dujardin might well be among the frontrunners to pick up the Oscar in the Best Actor category but guess what.

He hasn't won the French equivalent, the César.

Those awards were handed out on Friday evening at a luvvies' ceremony event held at Le Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris.

The Césars are definitely not on the same OTT par as their US equivalent but, for the French film industry, they're just as important.

So who won the award for Best Actor?

Omar Sy.

Omar Sy (screenshot from "Intouchables" trailer)

Who, you might be asking.

Well film buffs might be aware that the 34- year-old played one of the lead roles in the French comedy that has taken this country by storm, "Intouchables."

The film made by directors Eric Tolédano and Olivier Nakache took the true story of Philippe Pozzo di Borgo, paralysed from the neck down in a paragliding accident in 1993, and the man he paid to look after him Abdel Sellou and adapted it for the big screen.

It is, in the words of some of the official blurb "the meeting of two 'handicaps' - one physical the other social."

"Following a paragliding accident, Philippe (played by François Cluzet), a rich aristocrat, is in need of someone to look after him. He hires Driss (played by Omar Sy), a young man from the "troubled" inner suburbs of Paris and just out of prison. In short the person least suited for the job. Together they reconcile Vivaldi and Earth Wind and Fire, repartees and ghetto jokes, tailored suits and tracksuits..."

"Intouchables" touches more than just one nerve. It makes you laugh and cry as the performances, especially of the excellent Omar Sy, carry you along. The dialogue is credible, the situation less so - but that's the beauty really because it's based on a true story; Yes fact can be stranger than fiction.

Packing 'em in right from the beginning, "Intouchables" went on general release in France on November 2 and three weeks later, six million people had already seen it.

Queues outside cinemas were long - very long - and booking ahead more than advisable.

And the phenomenon just kept going. To date the film has put more than 19 million bums on seats in France - not bad in a country with a population of around 65 million.

Forget those stuffy US reviewers (such as Variety's Jay Weissberg) who just didn't "get it" (perhaps they don't speak a word of French) and labelled it as running to stereotypes or at worst "racist".

Film critics in France and industry insiders couldn't quite believe how badly the US had seemed to understand the humanity behind the film.

Perhaps they'll be happier when the inevitable own all-American version is made.

A deserved award for Sy, and perhaps disappointment for Dujardin who is, of course, now on his way to Hollywood to try his luck at the Oscars.

There was more than a little consolation for The Artist though as it picked up six Césars on the night including the biggies Best Film, Best Director for Michel Hazanavicius and keeping it in the family Best Actress went to Hazanavicius' partner, Bérénice Bejo.

There were also gongs for The Artist for Best Original Music, photography and decor.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Friday's French music break - Christophe Willem, "I will always love you"

Friday's French music break this week is a tribute of sorts with Christophe Willem tackling the late Whitney Houston's signature song, "I will always love you."

Christophe Willem (screenshot from Europe 1 performance)

Actually it's not an official single, but a version of the song Willem has performed several times in concert over the years.

Willem first shot to fame in France in 2006 during season four of the TV talent show Nouvelle Star (the equivalent in this country of Pop Idol).

When he auditioned in Toulouse he appeared to be the most unlikely of eventual winners, dressed as he was in the ugliest of stripey pullovers and an old pair of jeans, and with a posture that earned him the nickname of "La Tortue" (The Turtle) from Marianne James, one of the judges.

Christophe Willem - audition for Nouvelle Star (screenshot from video clip)

It was an epithet that was to stick with a title of the same name by French songwriter Philip Katerine appearing on Willem's first album.

With, in the words of André Manoukian, another of the judges, his "voice of a diva and excellent swing" Willem charmed the jury and public alike, turning in one startling performance after another as the weeks passed and topping the whole shebang off by winning, of course.

Fans had to wait the best part of a year before Willem released his excellent debut album "Inventaire" with tracks written by the likes of Katerine, Zazie and Olivier Schultheis, and there followed concert dates and TV appearances as Willem firmly established himself on the French music scene.

Since then, Willem has released two further studio albums, "Caféine" in 2009 and "Prismophonic" in 2011; in both cases his music has taken a distinct electro-pop music turn.

And that's a shame, because one of the 28-year-old's strengths is the purity and clarity he brings to acoustic versions of songs.

The excellent "Jacques a dit" from the "Inventaire" album is probably the best example, "I will always love you" which he performs in concert, is another.

But - and it's a massive but - in his rendition of the song written by Dolly Parton but made famous by Houston, Willem is walking the proverbial fine line of turning an already over-sentimental song into pure and simple schmaltz.

Arguably, Houston got away with it because of who she was, her voice and her star stature.

Willem, however good he is when performing simple piano and voice (and he is good) sounds like someone putting in a not-quite-as-good performance of a song that probably irritated and moved in equal proportions when sung by Houston, who had made it her own.

Anyway, take a listen - if you dare.

The Europe 1 version is an extract and thankfully lasts little over a minute.

If you're a real glutton for an aural drubbing, you can listen to the one of the live performances available on YouTube such as this one on television a couple of years ago.

Bon courage et bon week-end!

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The "proper" way to smack a child

All right so it's not exactly what a report on TF1's prime time news on Tuesday evening was saying, but in a way, it surely wasn't far from it.

It's all a matter of interpretation.

"Bon usage de la fessée" ran the title of a three-and-a-half minute clip introduced by anchor Laurence Ferrari and although it has been tempered somewhat on the site to read "Pour bien punir ses enfants, tout est question de mesure" the underlying message remains the same doesn't it?

TF1's report was part of an ongoing series looking at the education - in the broad sense of the word - of children and featured a couple with three young boys.

The mother, Marie-Laure Vital, admitted, just as 80 per cent of French parents apparently do, that she occasionally smacks her children.

Vital sometimes feels "unable to cope" and because she reportedly often feels that the punishment - whatever form it might take - isn't doing its job properly or is inappropriate, she has joined a workshop which specifically teaches parenting skills.

"L'atelier des parents" is a one of a kind in France and on the agenda during TF1's filming was the subject of punishment, with one of the workshop's psychologists, Caroline Iruela, detailing what sort of discipline was unacceptable and the eight parents present exchanging their experiences.

So far so good.

But then up pops a doctor - a paediatrician no less - with over 30 years experience.

And while he maintains, just as you would expect from a professional that, "If smacking is carried out to hurt or publicly humiliate a child, it's not effective" take a look at his gesture as he begins this contribution.

Doesn't it seem to imply that an "appropriate" slap on the hands is perfectly all right as it doesn't really constitute smacking?

Last year after a woman was given a six-month suspended sentence for smacking her child, the lines of a 'phone-in programme on national radio were buzzing with indignation.

Listeners were appalled by the decision and critical of the invited guest, paediatrician and parliamentarian Edwige Antier. who has tried to introduce a law to ban smacking.

"A mother should be a 'protector' and what's needed in France is a law, as exists in 18 other European countries, abolishing the right parents have to hit a child," said Antier during the show.

It wasn't a point of view with which many listeners agreed and they're not alone.

A 2010 poll among health professionals showed that 88 per cent of them were also against the introduction of such a law.

While domestic corporal punishment, of which smacking is one form, is against the law in many European countries, it seems to be acceptable in France.

Screenshot from Council of Europe video "Raise your hand against smacking"

And while the prevailing thinking runs along the lines of "A smack from time to time has never hurt anyone," (read some of the comments to TF1's report), that 2008 Council of Europe "Raise your hand against smacking" campaign calling on all member states to pass laws prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment of children, including smacking, looks set to have little impact on lawmakers here.

Smacking's all right isn't it? As long as it's done "properly".

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

French presidential elections - the 500 signatures rule, undemocratic or transparent?

It's presidential election year here in France and the race is on to qualify for the first round.

Perhaps one of the decidedly weird, and in the eyes of some, not-so-wonderful quirks of the country's political system is the way potential candidates meet the requirements to appear on the first round ballot.

In short (and of course as this is France, it's much more complicated than at first appears) they have to collect at least 500 signatures from the country's 47,000-odd elected representatives and submit them for validation to the Constitutional Council by March 16.

The pool of potential signatories includes the country's 37,000 or so mayors, parliamentarians be they national or those representing France at the European level - as well as general and regional councillors.

Anyone failing to get enough support will not be allowed to stand.

The task of collecting those signatures isn't an issue for the two main parties as they crank up their campaigning machines fully prepared to slug it out in the first and probably second rounds.

But for the so-called "smaller" parties, it's a problem as the lists of officials who sign are made public (they have been since 1976) and, if you believe Marine Le Pen, that appears to present a particular for her far-right Front National.

The Constitutional Council has just rejected Le Pen's request that the list of signatures remain "anonymous" on the grounds that publishing the them ensures transparency of the acts of what are, after all, elected officials.

All of which means that with only 430 "promised" signatures so far, Le Pen could find herself "going down to the wire" just as her father Jean-Marie did in the last presidential elections in 2007 when he just managed 507 signatures.

Or she might fail to meet the required numbers altogether.

Now you might not agree with her politics but, if opinion polls are to be believed, there's no denying that Le Pen has some support among the French electorate; a fact she is often to be heard drumming home in the French media which seems to have decided that she is a credible candidate.

So should she be prevented from standing because of a law that some (and not just Le Pen) claim is undemocratic, weighted against smaller parties and encourages strong-arm tactics from the Big Two?

After all, with just a couple of weeks to go before that March 16 deadline, five of the other declared candidates still fall short of the 500 signatures required, among them former prime minister Dominique de Villepin and Frédéric Nihous, the leader of the Chasse, pêche, nature et traditions (Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions party, CPNT) party.

signatures "promised" so far (screenshot TF1)

signatures "promised" so far (screenshot TF1)

Earlier this month François Bayrou, the leader of the centrist party Mouvement démocrate (Demoncratic Movement, MoDem) and himself a presidential candidate, suggested that the larger parties, including his, ensure Le Pen's name appear on the ballot by encouraging their elected officials to "sponsor" her, if needs be.

It was an idea not just rejected by the governing centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) and opposition Socialist party but also Le Pen.

So - and this of course is purely hypothetical - if you were a mayor or an elected representative in France, would you sign Le Pen's list just so that she could stand?

Monday, 20 February 2012

Thierry Henry's €300,000 "dream" aquarium

As reported in Britain's Daily Mail - so you know it must not only must be true, but also completely accurate - the 34-year-old has slapped in an application to remodel his ever-so-modest London pad in the British capital's swanky suburb of Hampstead.

Apparently Henry wants to knock down the 1999-built €6million (or in local currency £7,2 million) house and replace it with something even bigger, better and more clearly suited to his needs.

That includes everything the modern-day man requires of course, such as a bar, a cinema a swimming pool and - the accessory that has tongues-a-wagging and journalists a-writing - a €300,000 mammoth aquarium running the entire height of what would become a humble four-storey home.

You can read the full details of the giant fish tank (although that seems the most inappropriate description) the 34-year old would like to install as well take a look at the plans he has submitted to the local council in the Daily Mail.

They're also available in euros in a report in the French daily Le Parisien and the weekly French celebrity gossip magazine Closer (yes it has attracted the attention of the serious sectors of the media).

But it's hard for anyone of regular means surely to get past some of the financial stats that come, not only with the initial price tag, but also the estimated heating, cleaning, stocking, lighting, feeding and maintenance costs.

Yes we're talking silly figures here.

Henry's application might run into a few problems though from those considering on the council who might consider giving him the green light.

Sir Richard MacCormac is against the project. He's the man who designed the current house that Henry wants to tear down, and whose construction is described by those "in the know" apparently as "one of the finest examples of modern day architecture in the United Kingdom."

And The Twentieth Century Society, a British charity which campaigns for the preservation of architectural heritage from 1914 onwards, is reportedly considering slapping in a request for the building to be listed, which would effectively scupper Henry's application.

The motive behind what would appear to be the most absurd of building projects is apparently Henry's desire to maintain a "pied à terre" in London so that he has somewhere to stay when he's over from the States to visit his daughter Téa who lives with his ex-wife Claire Merry.

Henry currently plays for New York Red Bulls and will be returning Stateside after a short spell on loan for one of his former clubs Arsenal.

Thierry Henry's New York loft (screenshot BFM TV)

Some of you might remember that Henry splashed out a miserly €11 million for a New York apartment when he first left Europe in September 2010.

Clearly the man has more money than sense.

Friday, 17 February 2012

French magazine to publish Adele sextape photos

Oh isn't it just what you wanted to see and read about?

Pictures alleged to be of the Grammy award-winning British singer Adele in a compromising position.

They appear in this week's edition of the French celebrity gossip magazine "Public" which devotes three whole pages of the 23-year-old "enjoying herself".

"It's the revenge of a former boyfriend", runs the headline on the front cover.

"The images come from a video made with a smartphone," explains the magazine.

Infamous French paparazzo Jean Claude Elfassi has apparently also got his hands on stills from the video and to the delight probably of those with the smallest of minds is planning to publish them online from Saturday - uncensored.

Oh well, it obviously pleases some to mess with the lives of others without any sense of morality.

Clearly if someone is a public figure he, or in this case she, is fair game no matter what.

And by the time the singer has managed to get the slow wheels of French justice to grind into action, the story (what story?) and photos will have done their rounds of the magazines and the Net.

Maybe though the whole thing is a hoax designed to sell more copies.

So, just to take your minds away from what will doubtless be a huge (and perhaps meaningless) buzz and to concentrate on what's really interesting about Adele, here's a video - of her singing.

Friday's French music break - Shakira, "Je l'aime a mourir"

Friday's French music break this week is sung by a woman who surely needs no introduction as she's one of the biggest international stars around today.


Shakira (screenshot from NRJ Music Awards)

It's her rendition - sung in French - of a song originally written and performed by Francis Cabrel.

Unless you've not flipped on a French music radio station recently or seen a variety programme on television, you cannot help but have heard it.

Not surprisingly given the song's exposure and Shakira's 2010 and 2011 concerts dates in France as well as the release of the song as part of the "Live from Paris" DVD, her version of "Je l'aime a mourir" entered the French charts at number one in the middle of January.

While you've probably heard of Shakira, you might not be familiar with Cabrel and quite frankly, as a matter of general French popular music culture you should be.

The 58-year-old is arguably one of the best songwriters of his generation.

He first recorded and released "Je l'aime à mourir" in 1979 and then in 1998 he re-released it as "La quiero a morir" on his Spanish-language album "Algo más de amor".

Cabrel's appeal probably lies in the poetic nature of his lyrics and polished melodies.

Indeed "Je l'aime à mourir" is one example of several of his songs that cut across generations and the chances are (if you live in France) that you know a French person or two (or several) who could sing along without any trouble.

If you need more words, then try the excellent and not-too-long biography on Radio France Internationale which tracks the career of "one of the most prominent figures on the French music scene" from his humble beginnings in the département of Lot et Garonne, the influence of Bob Dylan on his writing style, his attachment to the village of Astaffort away from the glare of celebrity, his charity work throughout the years and some truly memorable songs along the way.

Meanwhile back to Shakira, and although there are plenty of live recordings of her singing "Je l'aime a mourir" available on YouTube if you want to search, here's one from a performance at the recently televised NRJ Music Awards in Cannes.

So sit back and enjoy.

It'll give you a taste of Cabrel's magical songwriting skills and maybe encourage you to listen to some of his other material.

Bon week-end.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

French presidential candidates - a quick trivia quiz

Now that Nicolas Sarkozy, has declared himself a candidate in this year's French presidential elections, the real campaigning is officially underway.

Nicolas Sarkozy - candidate (screenshot from TTF1 news)

In honour of the most humble and definitely unexpected confirmations of his candidacy and the equally surprising (all right, enough with the irony already) withdrawal of former defence minister Hervé Morin from the race, perhaps it's time to lighten things up a little before the debate gets too serious.

So here's a simple quiz - not to be taken too seriously.

The questions are the kind that provide answers of seemingly useless bits of information which might - or might not - come in handy.

The format used is multiple choice, so the chances are you'll get at least one of them right.

And if you don't, it either means you've not been paying attention or you have had far better things to occupy your time and mind!

So here goes.

No cheating.

The answers are at the end, after the video of Sarkozy declaring his candidacy.

1. Marriage

An easy one to begin with.

Who, in his capacity as mayor, officiated at the wedding of his second wife to her first husband?

a) François Bayrou
b) François Hollande
c) Nicolas Sarkozy

2. ENA

Which two candidates completed the French graduate school École Nationale d'Administration in the same year?

a) Marine Le Pen and François Bayrou
b) Nathalie Arthaud and Philippe Poutou
c) François Hollande and Dominique de Villepin

3. Miss

Now here's a tricky one - maybe. Who was a former beauty pageant contestant, finishing third in the national "Miss" competition?

a) Nathalie Arthaud
b) Eva Joly
c) Marine Le Pen

4. Government

Which of these candidates has never held a government ministerial position?

a) François Bayrou
b) François Hollande
c) Jean-Luc Mélenchon

5. Candidate

Who has never run for elected political office before?

a) Marine Le Pen
b) Jean-Luc Mélenchon
c) Dominique de Villepin

6. Childhood stutter and Irish roots

Which candidate used to stutter as a child and is related to the Irish poet Theo Dorgan?

a) François Bayrou
b) François Hollande
c) Marine Le Pen

7. "Capitaine de pedalo"

Just to show how fickle French political loyalties can be, which candidate who used to be in the same party as another one compared his now rival to a "Captain of a pedal boat in a storm"?

a) François Bayrou about Nicolas Sarkozy
b) Jean-Luc Mélenchon about François Hollande
c) Dominique de Villepin about François Bayrou

8. Young

Which of these candidates is the youngest?

a) Nathalie Arthaud
b) Marine Le Pen
c) Philippe Poutou

9. Twins

Which candidate has three children including teenage twins?

a) François Bayrou
b) Marine Le Pen
c) Dominique de Villepin

10. Height

And finally just to introduce an "international" element into an otherwise domestic quiz, if the current president, Nicolas Sarkozy were in a room with the following leaders - past and present - who is the only one over whom he would...well not exactly tower, but at least not require high heels or shoe inserts to appear taller.

a) Silvio Berlusconi
b) Angela Merkel
c) Dmitry Medvedev


1. Marriage

The answer is c) of course, Nicolas Sarkozy. In 1996 he was mayor of the swanky Parisian suburb of Neuilly-sir-Seine and as such married (confusing verb that) his later-to-be second wife Cécilia to her first husband, radio and television presenter Jacques Martin in 1996.

2. ENA

Another easy one, c) François Hollande and Dominique de Villepin. It was the class of 1980 "Voltaire". Another alumnus is Hollande's former partner and the 2007 Socialist party presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal. But you knew that, didn't you?

3. Miss

The answer is - and it's not something you'll find on her official website - b) Eva Joly. As an 18-year-old Joly (under her maiden name of Gro Eva Farseth) who is of course Norwegian by birth, entered the Miss Norway competition "just for fun", finishing third.

4. Government

Answer b) François Hollande has never held a ministerial position in government although he was of course First Secretary of the Socialist party from 1997-2008.

François Bayrou has been a government minister twice; from 1993-1995 he was minister for education under prime minister Édouard Balladur and again under Alain Juppé from 1995-1997, the first year of which only, also included higher education and research in his portfolio.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon was the junior minister for vocational education from 2000-2002 under prime minister Lionel Jospin.

5. Candidate

The answer is c) Dominique de Villepin. Although he has been interior minister, foreign minister and prime minister, de Villepin has never run for political office.

Le Pen, currently a regional councillor, and Mélenchon, a former senator, are both members of the European parliament.

6. Childhood stutter and Irish roots

It's a) François Bayrou. No surprises here perhaps if you're familiar with Bayrou's past two bids to become president in 2002 and 2007 as the stuttering, which he "famously overcame as a child", and his being related to the Irish poet Theo Dorgan through his maternal grandmother, Amélie, both featured in profiles run in the British and Irish media.

7. "Capitaine de pedalo"

It was of course b) Mélenchon about Hollande in an interview last November for the Le Journal du dimanche. Mélenchon also accused Hollande of pandering too much to the centre and forgetting his Socialist principles when he said, "He uses witticisms and jokes like a stubborn little social-liberal."

If only there were televised first-round debates. These two should make excellent entertaining sparring partners.

8. Youth

They're all in their 40s but Arthaud at 41 (she'll turn 42 on February 23) is the youngest. Poutou is 44 (he'll turn 45 on March 14) while Le Pen is 43.

9. Twins

The answer is b) Marine Le Pen. Unlike her politics, Le Pen pretty much keeps her personal life out of the media limelight. She's the youngest of three girls and in turn has three children; her oldest daughter was born in 1998 and her twins, a boy and a girl, in 1999.

De Villepin also has three children, two daughters and a son. His eldest child, Marie, is a model actress and singer who has used the name "Marie Steiss" professionally, had a small role which never made it past the cutting room in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and also sings in the group Pinkmist.

Bayrou is a father of six.

10 Height

Yes height is apparently a sensitive issue for Sarkozy who is said to measure in at around 1.65 metres.

That's exactly the same as the German chancellor Angela Merkel (the two do quite literally see eye to eye) and the former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

So the answer is c) Dmitry Medvedev who is just 1.62 metres.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

France's "sexiest" presidential candidate

Yes, another one of those ridiculous polls to spice up campaigning and distract from the endless political tit-for-tat point scoring in the run-up to the first round of the presidential elections in April.

It's a survey released this week which reveals who the French think is the sexiest candidate in the presidential race.

It was carried out online (says it all, doesn't it) by Harris Interactive on behalf of M6 television and RTL radio, presumably desperate for a new angle before the official announcement (expected on Wednesday evening) by Nicolas Sarkozy that he is going to stand for re-election.

The sample was of "1,025 individuals aged 18 and over and representative of the French population" so it must be credible!

Anyway back to the results and if the French were voting for whom they most fancy, then the winner (at least in the first round) would be...

Drum roll please.

Former prime minister and head of his (virtually) one-man break-out movement République solidaire (United Republic) from the governing centre-right Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP), Dominique de Villepin.

Dominique de Villepin (screenshot BFM TV interview)

And who would he of the finely-chiselled good looks and luscious mane face in a second round run-off?

Yes, this is stretching a survey to its ultimate silliness.

None other than Nathalie Arthaud.


Nathalie Arthaud (it's perhaps worth repeating) the official candidate of the extreme left Lutte Ouvrière party and the successor to that much-loved seemingly perennial presidential candidate Arlette Laguiller.

Nathalie Arthaud (from Wikipedia author - fepasma)

All right - so the result is about as likely as the poll is in serving some sort of purpose.

But what of the "real" contenders?

Well Sarkozy can still take some comfort before he twitches and grins his way into into the cameras to declare officially his candidacy.

He arrives in a creditable fourth place (Sarkozy sexy? Well Carla obviously thought so, didn't she) just behind the Front National's Marine Le Pen, but ahead of his principle rival the Socialist party's François Hollande.

Just in case you are shaking your head in disbelief at the complete idiocy of such a poll, perhaps you should take some comfort in the fact that 25 per cent of those questioned refused to respond.

There's hope yet!

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

"Happy Valentine Nicolas" love Christine

To viewers of TF1's prime time news on Monday evening it must surely have seemed like a (political) declaration of love, as the leader of the Parti chrétien-démocrate (Christian democratic party, PCD), Christine Boutin, withdrew from the presidential race and threw her weight behind Nicolas Sarkozy.

Christine Boutin (screenshot TF1 news)

Mind you, it was hardly a surprise after the weekend's glowing tribute - oops sorry - interview - in the weekend edition of the national daily Le Figaro in which Sarkozy laid out the bones of his electoral campaign - oops, sorry again - his "values for France."

In that interview, Sarkozy - the non-declared candidate to his own succession so obviously not preparing the ground to enter into the fray - expressed his views on, among other things, same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and a change in the law on euthanasia; "no" in each case.

And as far as Boutin was concerned it was proof that she and Sarkozy were finally singing from the same hymn sheet.

"Nicolas Sarkozy has shown in recent speeches and the interview in Le Figaro that he's in favour of re-inforcing the institution of marriage by rejecting the idea of same-sex marriage and he is against euthanasia," she said.

"He has made the distinction between education and instruction and lifted the taboo on immigration," she continued.

"I would say that Sarkozy has rediscovered the values that I have maintained for more than 30 years of political life," gushed a flushed Boutin.

Ah forgotten were those days when Boutin learned in rather humiliating fashion while watching television that she was no longer a government minister.

There was no longer the threat to "drop an atomic bomb" (rumoured to be a cosying-up to the leader of the centrist party François Bayrou) if she couldn't garner enough support in the form of 500 mayoral signatures necessary to run for president.

No, everything was now lovey-dovey, hunky-dory between Boutin and Sarkozy.

The two had made an "alliance to help Sarkozy win and to help France win" (no, not the Six Nations).

The political sweetener - isn't there always one - was also an apparent promise from Sarkozy to support Boutin's party in the country's parliamentary elections in June by "allowing" the PCD to field a hundred candidates in constituencies unopposed by his Union pour un mouvement populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP).

What a lovely Valentine's gift.

Next up "Monsieur Zero Per Cent" Hervé Morin?

The whole of France now awaits with baited breath for Sarkozy's rumoured declaration on TF1 news some time this week.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Monday, 13 February 2012

When will Nadine Morano stop?

French actor and screenwriter François Morel has said what probably many people in this country are thinking - or maybe even wishing - at the moment.

Morel who, in that time-honoured French tradition seems to be able to turn his hand to more than one profession at a time, has a weekly slot, "Le billet de François Morel" on Friday mornings on the French national public radio station France Inter.

It's five minutes during which Morel gives listeners his take on some of the stories that have made the news over the past week in France.

And last Friday it was "no holds barred" as the 52-year-old began his spot by fair laying in to two government ministers; Nora Berra, the junior minister for health, and Nadine Morano, the junior minister responsible for learning and training.

"Shut up Nora Berra," he began his commentary.

"Shut up Nora Berra, who recommended that the homeless stay indoors (during the cold spell)," he continued, just warming up.

"Shut up Nadine Morano, who thinks Eva Joly (the presidential candidate for the snappily-named Europe Écologie Les Verts, EELV or French Green party) has a problem with her accent and her body," he said.

"Nadine Morano has a problem with her brain."

Nadine Morano (screenshot BFM TV/RMC radio interview)

Yep, Morel wasn't mincing his words and in the case of Morano in particular, he probably had good cause.

While the remainder of his spot wandered off into more philosophical matters - not necessarily easy listening while getting ready for work - his opening salvoes surely, had highlighted an essential problem with some government ministers: their inability to think before they speak or publish something.

In the case of Berra it was that isolated, in her words, "error of interpretation" over her recommendation to the homeless to stay inside during the cold weather.

As far as Morano was concerned though, there have been a series of blunders - deliberate or unintentional - which make her governmental credentials almost Benny Hill-esque.

The list runs from telling "young Muslims in France that they should dress properly, find a job and stop speaking slang" to confusing "Renault" the car manufacturer with "Renaud" the singer during an early morning interview on Canal +.

And everything in between.

It would be fair to say that not a week seems to go by without Morano boldy putting her tootsie well and truly where no foot has dared to tread - in her mouth.

Last week she added to them by not only criticising Joly's accent (she was born in Norway just in case you didn't know, and first moved to France in her late teens) but also her look.

While busy "explaining" her most recent "misunderstood" gaffe, the 48-year-old then went on to score another own goal.

It happened after the inveterate Tweeter and texter sent an SMS to former government minister and current mayor of Nice in which she reportedly warned him about the prime minister, François Fillon, writing (you do the translation), "Attention Christian, Fillon te chie dans les bottes."

Only she apparently hit the wrong button when sending it, and the recipient Fillon rather than Estrosi.

So perhaps Morel really was speaking for many French when he colourfully told Morano to...well, you know.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Whitney Houston and THAT French TV appearance

Sunday's headlines, even here in France, were dominated by the news of the death of US singer Whitney Houston at the age of just 48.

The tributes have of course been pouring in - quite rightly too - as she had buckets of (wasted) talent and one heck of a voice.

Houston was a true diva with a string of hits few will forget, even if they weren't fans.

And for the French she also provided, albeit unwittingly, one of those rare moments of live TV that remain classics of the "I cannot believe my eyes" genre.

Whitney Houston and Serge Gainsbourg Champs Elysées on Antenne 2 (screenshot from video)

Actually it wasn't so much down to her of course but the late great multi-talented Serge Gainsbourg.

It came back in April 1986 when Houston was appearing in a popular Saturday night variety show Champs Elysées on Antenne 2 (now France 2).

The programme, presented by Michel Drucker, was a huge hit and lasted for most of the 1980s with stars - both French and international - passing through to sing their latest hit, or promote their next album, film, book or whatever.

After a hiatus of almost two decades, the show hit the screen again in 2010 and there have been a couple of "specials" since.

Anyway back to that night on April 5, 1986 - one Drucker and most viewers watching, will probably never forget.

Houston had just finished her number when Drucker thanked her and walked her over to be seated next to Gainsbourg.

And that of course is where the fun began as a slightly (to put it mildly) inebriated Gainsbourg became more than a little frisky - verbally at least.

Houston didn't really know how to react (who would under the circumstances?) although she remained professional and Drucker lost control while trying to retranslate clearly obvious sexual come-ons into polite and acceptable prime-time language.

He failed.

Friday, 10 February 2012

France gets (David) Beckham's briefs

It might be solace of some sort for French football fans after the rumours that the British player, David Beckham, was about to sign for Ligue 1 side Paris Saint-Germain, came to nowt.

David Beckham (screenshot from H&M commercial)

Because now they can, in a manner of speaking, at least get their hands on a part of one of the world's most famous players after the line of underwear bearing his name was launched in France this week.

All right so it comes a week after the Swedish retail company H&M started selling the "Bodywear collection" in London and that "Beckham in his pants" moment during last Sunday's Super Bowl in the United States when the entire promotional video of the 36-year-old "stretching and arching an eyebrow" clad only in the vestimentary bare essentials was shown during a commercial break.

But retailing at anything from €9.95 to €14.95 the range of underwear, tee-shirts and pajamas are an affordable gift - aren't they?

Hey there are even long johns in the collection to keep both the vitals and the legs warm during this cold winter snap.

The only downside - well there are a couple really - is that donning "Bodywear" won't give you the same sort of figure as the Posh Spice's Other Half and you won't suddenly become an overnight sensation on the pitch.

Never mind, you can always dream.

And maybe someone will dip into their long pockets to offer you a Valentine's gift.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Sexy "blow job" commercial - soft porn, fun or simply sexist?

Smutty probably isn't the right word to describe the latest advertising spot that went online just a week ago and is, according to the national daily Libération, under attack from some French feminists for being sexist.

(screenshot of 11footballclub commercial)

Soft porn would be nearer the mark as once again a company is creating a stir by using that age-old advertising tool to sell - sex.

It's for 11footballclub, a French online store specialising in football garb - mainly the sort you can wear - and which is planning to open its first retail outlet shortly in the western French city of Nantes.

Time then for a spot of publicity - anything will do, as long as it gets the company noticed and everyone talking about it.

And the commercial certainly does that.

It features a sexy (of course) red headed woman on her knees apparently - so the ambiguity of the camera angle would have you believe - about to give a man oral sex.

Of course that's what you're meant to think because as the camera pans out out you see that in fact she's helping a customer try on a pair of shoes.

There are the customary sexual groans and moans (because the shoes are too tight - naturally) , very little dialogue (after all who needs it in erotica) and mood-setting background music.

Highly creative - not.

It's meant to be amusing, as Benoît Defois, co-manager of the company told the free daily newspaper 20 minutes.

"The message of the ad isn't to denigrate women, but just to say we take care of our customers," he said.

"The next episode in the the series - which might run to four or five in total - could well see a man kneeling in front of a woman," he continued.

"We might release it just before the Euro 2012 (scheduled to take place in Poland and Ukraine from June 8 - July 1) to promote women's football."

Yes that would seem entirely logical.

The intended humour though isn't how one feminist group sees it.

For the Nantes-based "Collectif radical anti-sexisme et homophobie" (Crash) it's both sexist and offensive.

"We can't constantly laugh at sexism and machismo, when we know that a woman is raped every five hours in France," a member of the group told 20 minutes.

"If a black man were in the place of women, I don't think it would make many people laugh."

Judge for yourselves.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Karl Lagerfeld, newspaper editor, on the Queen, Barack Obama, Greece and Adele - and lots more

You know how some celebs seem almost to be caricatures of themselves?

They're talented, successful and very influential in whichever field they're working.

But somehow, somewhere, they begin saying whatever comes into their minds, and their soundbites are the stuff of great swathes of the media.

One such person surely has to be German fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld.

Karl Lagerfeld (screenshot from Reuters report)

The 78-year-old scores on all three criteria, talent, success and influence.

There's no questioning his gift for creating posh frocks and the like, he heads a major fashion house, Chanel, and he can make a model's catwalk career take off, just as he did with Baptiste Giabiconi.

Sadly he's also given to pontificating on just about anything that strikes his fancy.

So when the free daily newspaper Metro made him guest editor for Tuesday's edition, Lagerfeld was given a platform not only to determine the design and contents for one day, but also to come up with some real corkers as he was asked questions on a range of issues during an interview.

Barack Obama deserves to be re-elected as far as Lagerfeld is concerned, but mainly because of his wife, Michelle, who has a "magical face" and without whom "he (Obama) would not be there."

Ah yes finger on the political pulse time from a man who admits he has never voted in his life.

There's more...of course.

The Greek economic crisis is - surprise, surprise - "a big problem as (Greeks) have a reputation of being corrupt," says Lagerfeld.

Ah that thought has never been expressed before. But wait for it, he has more.

"Greece needs to work on a cleaner image."

And more.

"Nobody wants Greece to disappear (???- not sure what he meant by that. Maybe Lagerfeld knows something the rest of us don't) but they have really disgusting habits – Italy as well.

Yep - you tell 'em Karl.

On the French presidential election; "It's not inspiring at the moment" (see video).

Well some would probably agree with him.

As far as popular music is concerned, British singer Adele has "a beautiful face and divine voice" but for Lagerfeld she's also "a little too fat."

As if the latter had anything to do with the former.

Finally - just for now (you can read the whole interview and/or watch the video if you feel so inclined) there's Queen Elizabeth II who has just marked the 60th anniversary of her accession to the throne.

Lagerfeld seems to think she's improving with age and, as far as her dress sense is concerned (and that's after all an area in which you would expect him to be able to make an informed comment) she's coming "into herself a little bit more - whatever that means."

Quite. What exactly does that mean?

Nora Berra, junior health minister, advises homeless to "stay indoors" during cold snap!

As you're doubtless aware by now, much of Europe is going through Brass Monkeys weather, and France has been no exception over the past week.

Indeed there's unlikely to be a let-up in the cold spell until next weekend according to the national meteorological (try saying that after a few bevvies) office Météo France.

Prime time TV news and radio programmes are typically dedicating plenty of air time to - among other aspects - the freezing temperatures, burst pipes, electricity consumption, the danger of blackouts, and the plight of the homeless.

Cue the junior minister for health, Nora Berra, whose job, you would imagine, is one that would require her being particularly sensitive to the needs of the more vulnerable - especially during weather extremes.

And such was the case at the weekend when the 49-year-old helpfully wrote on her blog her recommendations as to how those most at risk - the homeless, infants, the elderly, or people with chronic cardiovascular or respiratory problems - could cope with the cold spell.

A few lines later came her words of wisdom beginning with, "In the case of an extreme drop in temperature, I recommend to those most vulnerable to stay indoors."

(enlarged screenshot of blog from Nouvel Observateur)

Yep. She was apparently telling the homeless that they shouldn't venture outside.


As the website of the weekly news magazine Nouvel Observateur pointed out, the Net was soon abuzz with reactions to Berra's blunder, with Twitter users poking fun at the minister by recommending that, "the homeless also eat five fruit and vegetables each day for a healthy diet" or suggesting they "wear fur coats rather than jogging suits because they would keep them warmer."

Berra responded by amending her blog and, as the national daily Le Monde wrote, dropping the homeless from her original list of the "most vulnerable" and giving them a whole sentence at the end of her entry with a reminder that, "if you see a homeless person on the street who seems to need help because of the cold, call 115 (an emergency service for the homeless) to report it without delay."

Seemingly unwilling to admit that she had made any sort of mistake, she also answered her critics by saying that it had been an "error of interpretation" and writing a shorter blog entry (Tweeted) pointing out that, "there are some subject which do not lend themselves to irony."

Well, there's nothing like an apology...and that's...

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Maïtena Biraben's absurd parody tribute to Queen Elizabeth's 60th anniversary

It was an entry and a half for the presenter of Monday morning's edition of the Canal + breakfast programme "La Matinale".

To mark the 60th anniversary of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II's accession to the throne, La Matinale's presenter, Maïtena Biraben, began the programme disguised as...well who else really?

Maïtena Biraben as Queen Elizabeth II (screenshot from La Matinale)

Dressed from head to toe in what was presumably meant to be a regal version of Barbie pink and donning a ridiculous wig, Biraben got the programme underway to the strains of the 1977 hit "God save the Queen" by the English punk band the Sex Pistols.

An indication surely that just in case viewers were having a hard time realising the whole thing was a parody, the "fun" had to be underscored with a dated song that "attacked Britons' social conformity and deference to the Crown".

Ha ha.

If you're telling a joke and nobody's laughing, try repeating it.

That's bound to raise a smile heh?

Thankfully the remainder of, what is usually, an excellent way to begin the day, had a more conventional approach to reporting and presenting, including a special on the anniversary, an interview and a look at the relationship the British apparently have with their head of state.

Biraben quickly "lost" the absurd garb although it some of it managed to find its way on to fellow journalist Léon Mercadet towards the end of the programme.


Well, mildly so perhaps, although it's not hard to imagine that if the Queen had seen it (not exactly likely it has to be admitted) she might well have quoted one of her antecedents to the throne, Victoria, with a cutting, "We are not amused".


Biraben ended Tuesday's edition of La Matinale with a hint that viewers should expect something "special" the following day to mark the release in France of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace 3D.

Oh yes.

After Biraben as Queen Elizabeth II comes Darth Vader perhaps?

Monday, 6 February 2012

Former Senate leader Gérard Larcher, and a lesson on how to listen to a political debate - asleep

Bored by politics?

Fed up with the centre-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (Union for a Popular Movement, UMP) trying to justify their past five years in power (well actually more like 10 if the governments of the previous president Jacques Chirac are included with prime ministers Jean-Pierre Raffarin 2002-2005 and Dominique de Villepin 2005-2007. Funny how little mention is made of that) admitting to some errors but basically blaming the global economy, immigrants, or the 35-hour working week (among other things) for the country's woes.

Whoa, a sentence without the influence of French.

Gérard Larcher (screenshot from Des paroles et des actes)

Or the Socialist party accusing the UMP of rightwing tendencies, pandering to a potential far-right Front National electorate and forgetting that running a country isn't the same as running a business; government has a social responsibility too.

Well guess what. You're probably not alone.

Even politicians - well some of them at least - would appear to have had their fill.

Take a look at this clip from Thursday's edition of the excellent Des paroles et des actes on France 2 television.

The prime minister François Fillon was going jaw-to-jaw with the leader of the Socialist party, Martine Aubry.

It was of course, "Yadda, yadda, yadda this" and "Blah, blah, blah, that" as the pair failed to listen to one another, agree on common ground or solutions to problems that were naturally not of their making.

A jolly good time was had by one and all: at home in front of the small screen and in the audience.

But wait a mo'.

Who's that, thankfully not in the front row, but still captured briefly by the cameras at 23 seconds appearing to catch a few moments shut eye.

Could it be?

Surely not!

Yes it is.

None other than Gérard Larcher a high-ranking UMP politician and until October 2011 the president of the Senate.


Bored? Tired? Dozing? Texting? Consulting notes?

Whatever the case, he couldn't have been paying attention. Or could he?


Gérard Larcher s'endort dans le public de "Des... par puremedias

Friday, 3 February 2012

Friday's French music break - Chimène Badi, Gospel and Soul

Friday's French music break this week comes from a woman with arguably one of the biggest, most resonant and gorgeous voices around on the French music scene.

Chimène Badi (screenshot from "Ain't no mountain high enough" video)

It's the latest album from Chimène Badi, the woman who didn't win the French reality TV talent show Popstars but still managed to build a successful career largely due to her talent.

And this time around she's turned her magnificent voice to Gospel and Soul - an obvious choice really - with the unfortunately unimaginatively entitled"Gospel and Soul".

Still, at least you know what to expect.

After a build-up like that you would expect a glowing review.

Sadly that's not the case.

While it's clear that Badi has found a blend that suits her voice and the album is well produced, there's a certain grittiness lacking.

Badi's distinctive and instantly recognisable voice is just too perfectly polished and some tracks, such as her version of "Mercedes Benz", come across as Carpenters'-inspired syrupy sweet.

She barely revisits "Amazing Grace" instead giving a tame copy of what has been sung umpteen times before and it simply lacks that certain "oomph" you might be hoping for.

The album is supposed to be, according to her official website, a tribute to those singers and songs who have influenced Badi, both American and French.

There is, for example, Stevie Wonder's "For once in my life", Otis Redding's "Try a little tenderness", Georges Moustaki's "Ma liberté" or Native's (how great it is to hear one of their songs again) "Tu planes pour moi".

And while they're all delivered better than many other French singers around today could manage, they're far from being anything approaching extraordinary.

It's a shame really as Badi most definitely has a voice that could do justice to Gospel and Soul songs - it's just not the case with this album which comes across as just a little too Las Vegas.

Gospel and Soul was released in November 2011 and sales of this, her fifth studio album, have already outstripped those of the disappointing 2010 offering "Laisse-les dire".

Maybe once Badi takes her show on the road again and gives some real live feeling and quality to the songs she's interpreting, they'll become something more than Middle-of-the-road listening.

Judge for yourself with Badi's version of "Ain't no mountain high enough" the second track to be lifted from the album as a single and which sees her team up with US Soul singer, Billy Paul, best known for his 1972 hit "Me and Mrs Jones".

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