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".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Google celebrates the 126th anniversary of the Eiffel Tower opening its doors to the public for the first time
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin visits her 1990s work ‘My Bed’ at Tate Britain in London, where it is back on display from today
artsBut how does the iconic work stand up, 16 years on?
  • Get to the point
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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor