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French weekly magazines review

There's plenty of variety in the latest French weeklies. Revelation, provocation, investigation, celebration - not to mention stories masquerading as hot news which I'm sure I have seen before.

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Marianne takes the prize for the most provocative stories. It's cover story - "Sarkozy - Is he 'a jerk' " ?

The background to this is a recent row in which Socialist Party presidential candidate François Hollande was accused of calling Sarkozy "un sale mec" (a jerk). This was widely regarded as an insult too far. It is a convoluted story. But, essentially, Hollande denies the charge.

Still the fuss rumbles on, as devoted followers of Sarkozy offer proof of his virtue, his sacrifices and his kindness.

Indeed, while waiting for what it call "the canonisation" of France's current head of state, Marianne decides to have some fun with this storm in a teacup. After detailing his less than saintly behaviour in the past, Marianne concludes charitably - or perhaps one should say tongue-in-cheek - "henceforth we will speak of him only as that Saintly Man".

The magazine looks to have the current occupants of the Elysée Palace its gunsights this week. Elsewhere it devotes six pages of what it calls "revelations" - an enquiry into the philanthropic activity of Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, who, in case you've been alone on a desert island in recent years, is the president's glamorous wife.

Her philanthropic efforts include a foundation to counter illiteracy and acting as an ambassador for the Global Fund to fight Aids. Marianne claims that Bruni is less saintly than her husband. She is seldom active on behalf of the UN, it says.

Worse, the magazine alleges that her foundation spent 3,5 million dollars "in violation of normal procedures". The story is altogether less amusing than "Is Sarkozy 'a jerk'?". And, Marianne says, it could embarrass the Elysée. A spokesperson for Bruni's foundation described the story as "untruthful and misleading".

Le Nouvel Observateur on its cover runs photographs of four cute infants. The headline: "When I grow up I'm going to be president."

As you may have guessed, they are childhood photos of the four leading contenders for the French presidency. Inside are more photos and stories of their childhood. The Nouvel Obs likes the idea so much it also explores the childhoods of presidents long-gone.

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing on the ski slopes, Georges Pompidou at his first communion and, my favourite, General Charles de Gaulle with shoulder length curls. It is a poignant reminder that once upon a time, like the rest of us, even the gravest statesmen were babes in arms.

The magazine also considers the drive, endorsed by all the presidential contenders, to encourage the French to buy stuff that is actually made in France. Not impossible, Nouvel Obs concludes. Not all imports come from cheap-labour economies.

In fact, almost 60 per cent of imports come from within the European Union. That said, there are things that France no longer makes enough of, shoes, for example, and many products where local manufacturers cannot compete with the price of imports. Want an umbrella for five euros? Chances are it will be made in China.

Le Point turns the clock back somewhat with a cover story on Albert Camus, the writer, playwright and philosopher who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957 and died in 1960. Some listeners will be familiar with his haunting novels, The Outsider and The Plague. It seems that Camus' reputation has been unjustly undervalued of late. With philisopher Michel Onfray, the author of a new biography, The libertarian order, Le Point revisits Camus' life and works and welcomes what it calls his "rehabilitation".

A hardy perennial from L'Express, which tells it readers at great length how the Freemasons, renowned for secrecy, cronyism and funny handshakes, manipulate candidates for the French presidency. I can't swear it is always in L'Express, but the chilling tale of how this supposedly mysterious brotherhood exercises its influence seems to turn up roughly every six months.

One would have thought we knew everything there was to know about them by now. Apparently not ! L'Express says that the main rivals for the presidency - the aforementioned Sarkozy and Hollande - are not initiates. But people close to them hold high office in the Masons. Lesser candidates also have senior Masons in their entourages.

Though, it seems, it was ever thus. The magazine flashes back to past presidents from the left and the right, François Mitterand and Jacques Chirac for example, who - guess what - counted Masons among their close aides and allies. Nothing new there, then.

Finally, Le Figaro magazine runs a splendid feature on "The French".

Its reporters and photographers journeyed thousands of kilometres, criss-crossing France to paint pen portraits of ordinary and extraordinary French people. From butcher to baker to candlestick-maker, as it were. In essence, it is a celebration.

"The French may be experiencing difficulties but they are more than ever attached to their country and reconciled to their history," it concludes.

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