Paris Stories: Now who can be this president nicknamed '20 minutes, shower included'?

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The Independent Online

Flops can sometimes tell you almost as much as the greatest triumphs. A novel was published in Paris last month, which, had it been published in Britain with a similar storyline, would have caused a sensation. In France, it was barely mentioned in any mainstream publication, rose briefly to the lower reaches of the bestsellers charts and then vanished.

The novel, L'Autre by Eric Zemmour, tells the story of a French politician called François Marsac, who brutally takes over the old Gaullist party, uses corruptly acquired funds to finance his career, screws around and ends up as President of the Republic. He has a wife from the haute bourgeoisie whom he serially betrays, and a trendy thirtysomething daughter who looks after his media image.

Sound like any president that you know? Mr Zemmour is a political reporter and commentator with the centre-right daily, Le Figaro, and published an excellent biography of Jacques Chirac two years ago.

His new book is a thinly disguised, fictionalised version of the president's career, right down to the nickname revealed by Chirac's former chauffeur in a drive-and-tell book four years ago. The fictional President Marsac, like the real President Chirac, is known to his entourage and many girlfriends as "twenty minutes, shower included".

The only new element is the suggestion that Marsac/ Chirac was the illegitimate son of his father's mistress. Rumours of this kind have circulated in France for years but have never been published before. The French privacy laws, and the general squeamishness in the mainstream press about the private lives of politicians, meant that Mr Zemmour's uneven book was ignored, even by his own newspaper.

As for the fidelity of the book to real life, Mr Zemmour refers all questioners to the motto on its first page: "Everything is true. Nothing is accurate."

A far more expensive, but equally revealing, flop is the French movie Blueberry, which appeared with great fanfare two weeks ago. The movie, which cost €42m (£28m) - one of the most costly French films ever - is a Western, filmed in English, shot partly in Spain, with a Dutch-born director and the stand-up British comedian, Eddie Izzard, playing a wicked German cowboy.

Although it contains beautiful sequences shot in the Mexican desert and mountains, French critics dismissed the film near-unanimously as pretentious tosh. It has long, psychedelic, dream sequences of, among other things, birds circling in the sky. One of these sequences - part of an attempt by the eponymous hero, played by Vincent Cassel, to wrestle with his demons through Indian drugs and religion - lasts 20 minutes.

The movie has been a disaster at the French box office and is bound to raise, again, questions about the generous subsidies available (to some) in the French film industry. The one person who emerges with credit is Mr Izzard, whose performance against type has been widely praised.

High-profile flop number three... If you happen to be in the Montparnasse area of Paris, you may come across an odd-looking building next to the Tour Montparnasse. The new architectural oddity is a small, white building which looks like a North African desert hut, complete with a plastic palm tree.

Although there is no obvious identifying sign, the hut is the entrance to Amnésia, the subterranean nightclub launched last year by the indestructible French rock singer, Johnny Hallyday, 60. The club was supposed to become the favourite rendezvous for showbiz celebrities - or "Les People" as they are known.

There were a lot of stories at the time of the launch - indignantly denied by Mr Hallyday - suggesting much of the financing had come from dubious sources. For whatever reason, Amnésia has not yet been a success. Les People have been forgetting to go in droves.

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