French celebrity intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy is none too happy about the way the French elections turned out, and now he’s even wondering if his candidate, socialist Ségolène Royal (who lost the presidency to conservative Nicolas Sarkozy last month) might have benefited from a more aggressively American media strategy. Early last year he published American Vertigo, a somewhat derided reported essay about a cross-country jaunt he took during our last presidential election, and now he’s starring in fake 2008 campaign ads by Italian celebrity artist Francesco Vezzoli, whose film piece in the last Whitney Biennial, Trailer for a Remake of Gore Vidal’s Caligula, was star-studded with the likes of Benicio del Toro, Milla Jovovich, Courtney Love, and Helen Mirren. In Vezzoli’s new work, Democrazy, premiering at the Venice Biennale this week and made in collaboration with Mark McKinnon (Bush’s old adman) and Jim Mulhall (a Clintonite), BHL plays a candidate for the White House; Sharon Stone is his Republican opponent. He spoke to Carl Swanson from his usual pied-à-terre, the Carlyle hotel.
You’re known for wearing shirts unbuttoned. Yet in this “ad” you wear a tie. When was the last time you put one on?
There is no last time. I have never, in my life, worn a tie. Not for my marriages, not for funerals, not for meeting the pope, not for lunch at the Elysée, not ever. Charvet—where I get my shirts—had a visit from an assistant who’d come to buy “ties for Bernard-Henri Lévy.” They thought it was a joke, that there was a hidden camera. Is this to say that a great artist can make me do something that the president of the republic couldn’t? Absolutely.
So, was your script approved by BHL?
I completely rewrote it. The content, if I recall correctly, was almost exclusively devoted to Iraq. Whereas I was wanting to talk also about the death penalty, the health-care system.
Sharon Stone’s character is Hillary?
A Republican Hillary, but Hillary nevertheless. Is that to say that, for Vezzoli, Hillary is a Republican with the face of a Democrat? Maybe.
What did you learn?
When I was making the film, I would see Ségolène Royal fairly often. And my thought was, What a pity that Madame Royal didn’t have the men and women of the level of those that Vezzoli brought to me. In other words: I’m not opposed to a little Americanization of the political life in my own country. When I see the amateurism of our candidates’ advisers, when I see the mediocre quality of Royal’s entourage, I say to myself, long live a little Americanization!
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