Cartoon Carla: fiction – or fact?

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

A comic book on life in the Elysée Palace portrays the President's wife as the real power behind the throne. By John Lichfield

And now, Carla Bruni the cartoon heroine. Or rather the cartoon villainess – a strange blend of Cruella de Vil and Snow White, with a mission to take over the world and remould it according to her own champagne-socialist tastes and ambitions.

France has been giggling, and staring aghast, at a retelling of the story of the political romance of the century in a strange new medium: an investigative comic-book.

Carla and Carlito (12 Bis Fayard, €12) is the rollicking narrative of how a right-wing, authoritarian, lonely president came to meet, and marry, a left-wing, beautiful, man-killing pop singer, human-rights activist and former top model.

The 62-page cartoon book, researched by one of France's best-known investigative journalists, manages to add new details to this familiar story (backed up by two pages of scholarly footnotes). The book reveals, for instance, that President Nicolas Sarkozy is known to his own staff at the Elysée Palace as "Carlito" – or little Carla – because he has fallen so deeply under the influence of his wife.

The facts are mingled with unashamed fantasy and told through inspired imagery, such as a sequence of Disney-like frames showing Carla Bruni hypnotising the President with cat-like eyes and a front-cover image showing a tall, confident Carla carrying a tiny President in a baby sling. The book also includes a passage from an article about Carla Bruni from The Independent last March, which is reproduced in a bubble coming from the mouth of a reader. According to the book's cartoonist, Riss, the archetypical reader of this newspaper wears a bowler hat and looks uncannily like the late prime minister, Harold Macmillan.

Fantasy is one thing; politics is another. The authors, the investigative journalist Philippe Cohen and storyline writer, Richard Malka, have attempted in satirical comic-book form to make a contribution to a growing political debate in France. Who on earth is Carla Bruni? And what does she want?

The nation's first impressions, that the Italian-born Mme Bruni-Sarkozy was an air-head and adventuress in quest of public attention and new experiences, are beginning to fade. They are being replaced by another image of Mme Bruni-Sarkozy as a clever, manipulative – and perhaps, given the country of her birth, Machiavellian – woman with a personal and political agenda of her own.

Carla and Carlito comes down on the Machiavellian side of the argument. The final pages – "purely imaginary, but so true to life," according to the authors – foresee the possibility that Carla might one day emerge as the "French Hillary" and run for the Elysée herself.

The book is the sequel to two previous bestselling illustrated books by the same authors on President Sarkozy's rise. The new book – far better than its predecessors – coincides with another, more traditional investigative book which reveals a fascinating, but disturbing, new side of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy.

The French satirical newspaper, Le Canard Enchaîné, broadly equivalent to Private Eye, has for several months been publishing a front page spoof diary called "Le Journal de Carla B". In this diary, "Carla" peddles a simplistic left-wing agenda while both mocking and adulating her "little" husband and seeking all means to project herself in glossy magazines.

It was revealed in April that Mme Bruni-Sarkozy loved this diary and had invited its author to lunch. A critical book on Le Canard Enchaîné published last week suggests that the "Carla B" diary may not be entirely a spoof after all. The book – La Face Cachée du Canard Enchaîné – says that Mme Bruni-Sarkozy feeds tit-bits and storylines for the Carla B journal to the newspaper in order "to send out the right messages".

It remains unclear whether she is doing this with, or without, the approval of her husband.

Both books throw new light on the endlessly discussed but never explained relationship between President Sarkozy and Mme Bruni. On the one hand, there is a right-wing president with repressive and authoritarian social instincts, and political and economic views of variable geometry. On the other hand there is a wealthy woman whose personal instincts, and friends, belong to the libertarian-artistic left.

Mme Bruni-Sarkozy is already said to have influenced her husband to make a humanitarian U-turn on two high-profile issues: the threatened extradition of a sick, former left-wing terrorist to Italy and the planned organisation, jointly with Britain, of charter flights to dump Afghan refugees back in their home country.

Members of President Sarkozy's centre-right party, the UMP, are becoming increasingly puzzled by Mme Bruni-Sarkozy's role. "She has become a kind of tagged-on left-wing conscience for the President," one UMP deputy said. "If that is part of a strategy by the President to occupy all the political ground and neutralise the left, that's maybe acceptable. We sometimes wonder, however, how much this is the President's idea and how much it is Mme Bruni-Sarkozy's."

In Carla and Carlito, President Sarkozy emerges as an aggressive, feckless, driven man, motivated by a constant desire to humiliate his enemies and show off to his friends. It is Carla who emerges as a calm, calculating, media strategist, pushing President Sarkozy subtly – and not so subtly – away from his apparent instincts as a right-wing hard-liner and towards her own aristocratic-bohemian view of the world.

Philippe Cohen, one of the authors, told The Independent: "Sarkozy is a man who has always been influenced by women, who has always needed the presence of a strong woman. Contrary to what some people say, he is not a man of strongly held opinions. He can be influenced and he is being influenced by Carla on some issues: not maybe on the financial crisis or Afghanistan but certainly on social and humanitarian issues. Where all that will lead? I don't know but it is clear that we have not heard the last of Carla's influence, as long as she remains amused by life in the Elysée."

In one cheeky frame – not backed up by a footnote, to denote authenticity – Carla is shown leaning over the President's shoulder trying to persuade him to smoke a marijuana joint. On the table in front of him is a dossier entitled "repression of drug-users".

Sport
formula oneLive lap-by-lap coverage of championship decider
News
Lily Allen performs on stage at Splendour In the Grass 2014 on 27 July, 2014, in Byron Bay, Australia
people
News
Boxing promoter Kellie Maloney, formerly known as Frank Maloney, entered the 2014 Celebrity Big Brother house
people
Arts and Entertainment
tvStrictly presenter returns to screens after Halloween accident
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
video
Arts and Entertainment
Jerry Hall (Hand out press photograph provided by jackstanley@theambassadors.com)
theatre
News
peopleFormer civil rights activist who was jailed for smoking crack cocaine has died aged 78
Sport
Manny Pacquiao lands a blow on Chris Algieri
Pacquiao retains WBO welterweight title – and says he wants Mayweather next
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
News
i100
Sport
premier leagueMatch report: Arsenal 1 Man United 2
Arts and Entertainment
Kirk Cameron is begging his Facebook fans to give him positive reviews
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Reach Volunteering: Financial Trustee and Company Secretary

Voluntary Only - Expenses Reimbursed: Reach Volunteering: A trustee (company d...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Project Manager

£45000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Shopfitter

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a successful an...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Sales Account Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Digital Sales Account Manager...

Day In a Page

Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

Look what's mushrooming now!

Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

Oeuf quake

Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

Terry Venables column

Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin