Le Monde reported on Friday that Nicolas Sarkozy, the former President of France, and head of the UMP, is planning a return to politics so that he can enter the race for the UMP presidential candidate in 2017, when the next national elections will take place in France.
Citing several sources close to the former President, it unequivocally states that those who are close to Sarkozy have no doubt that he intends to present himself as a candidate. This conviction is strengthened by the fact that Sarkozy has sanctioned a recent documentary about himself, in which his private life features heavily. The subject of the documentary is his private life during the last presidential campaign. It’s a soppy documentary, a portrait of an idyllic lifestyle, a happy marriage, and a calm, strong President. Intituled ‘Sarkozy Intime,’ which could be roughly translated as ‘Intimate Sarkozy,’ it is supposed to show Sarkozy in the Gaullist role of a strong executive, never impatient, a loving father and husband, and a capable leader.
The French website Rue 89 published an article on the documentary in which it heavily implies that it was successful (more than 1.5 million viewers), precisely because it evoked or suggested absolutely nothing new. Ironically, seeing as Sarkozy is above all a politician, nothing was said about politics, no analysis was made of the successes and failures of the presidential campaign, or the real political convictions of Nicolas Sarkozy. It played on our modern day tendency to be unable to resist the opportunity to voyeuristically gaze into the intimate life of a couple that we constantly see in the newspapers but actually know nothing about.
It tried to convince us that this political couple had generously opened the doors to its private life, warmly inviting us in, as equals. Yet, being the cunning politician that he is, without doubt Sarkozy calculated that he could use this documentary as one way among many to bring himself back, slowly but surely, into the public eye, without actually revealing anything important about himself (what he really thinks about politics, ideas, government), yet convincing us that we’ve learnt a lot about him, by exploiting our weak curiosity for celebrity culture.
It’s blatantly obvious that the Right-Wing supporters of Sarkozy have used this documentary as an opportunity to nostalgically reminisce about what a great man and leader Sarkozy was, and indeed still is. Some of the quotes from them are almost ridiculous. ‘Un beau moment de vérité,’ (A beautiful moment of truth). A tweet, from Sebastien Huyghe, an UMP MP; ‘…Un homme d’Etat qui donne tout, grand dans la défaite comme il l’avait été dans la victoire.’ (A statesman who gives everything, as impressive in defeat as previously in victory.)
According to Nicolas Bordas, a former advisor to François Hollande during his presidential campaign, if Hollande were to commission the same type of documentary about his personal life, his popularity levels wouldn’t be so low. Yet this seems to me to be a tricky question. First of all, as Rue 89 points out, Hollande may not be so lucky as to find a sympathetic filmmaker willing to film all the cute and touching moments of his personal life (which is essentially what this documentary on Sarkozy seems to consist of), and also willing not to ask any tricky questions. Secondly, this seems not to be having very high expectations about what the French people ask for from their President.
In the UK, we largely mock David Cameron when he reveals intimate details about his private life. I’m specifically thinking about when Downing Street released pictures of Samantha Cameron and Michelle Obama in the Cameron’s flat in number 10, where their impeccably neat and expensive kitchen and living room were revealed to the public. The Daily Mail released an informative article detailing every aspect of the kitchen and revealing the price of every item. And who could forget those cringe making photos of Ed Miliband and his wife, Justine Thornton, at the most recent Labour conference, where Ed looks extremely uncomfortable as his wife leans in to kiss him on the cheek in their hotel room.
Is it not slightly insulting the intelligence of the electorate to assume that a fly on the walls documentary with tender domestic scenes between Francois Hollande and his family and partner would reassure the public as to his capability for office? Why should it be that when a male politician wants to engage with the public, show he has ‘feelings,’ he inevitably trots out his family because this is meant to reassure us that anyone who has children and a wife is not a ‘bad’ person, and that we should therefore vote for them. Many, many examples have proved this shaky hypothesis wrong. In both the above cited cases in Britain, the wives of Miliband and Cameron have been put on show as if they were a possession adding to value of these men. This alone is distasteful, regardless of the fact that bringing out the family is a blindingly obvious political technique with which we are familiar.
Moreover, the release of this documentary has surely been carefully timed. Sarkozy, no longer in power or therefore at the mercy of weekly opinion polls, can afford to show off this side of his personality; calm, resolute, yet supposedly tender and loving. He can do this precisely because this is the opposite of Hollande’s public image in France at the moment. He is portrayed in the media as ineffectual, weak, and unable to pass through reforms on which he was elected. This documentary seems to be targeted at contrasting the two men, to the detriment of Hollande. Although we see straight through the documentary, its glossy sheen cannot fail to fascinate, perhaps?