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PARIS (Reuters) - A film chronicling French President Nicolas Sarkozy's 2007 election and the subsequent collapse of his marriage is creating a buzz -- and plenty of controversy -- ahead of its showing at Cannes this year.
"La Conquete" (The Conquest) by director Xavier Durringer, to be screened out of competition at the May 11-22 Cannes Festival, is billed as a fact-based account of Sarkozy's election victory and his quest the next day to locate his wife Cecilia, as their marriage fell apart.
While few outsiders have seen the movie as the producers' have striven to keep it secret, trailers for it show Sarkozy as a volatile personality, alternately morose and impulsive as he swears at advisers -- "I am surrounded by idiots!" -- and pleads with Cecilia not to leave him.
Colombe Pringle, editor-in-chief of Point de Vue gossip magazine and former head of French Vogue, said fascination with Sarkozy reflected his tendency to offer his private life up for public examination both during his campaign and as president.
"This film is fascinating to us, and everyone is dying to see it," she said. "Everyone is familiar with the ups and downs of this couple -- we watched every episode live -- and we are very curious to see what the directors have made of it."
Cecilia left Sarkozy and he became the first French president to divorce while in office. He then publicly wooed and wed his current wife, former model and singer Carla Bruni.
Sarkozy has a long precedent of ignoring official decorum. Persistent rumors that his current wife may be pregnant are more of the same, Pringle said.
"He gives us his private life on silver platter," she added.
Despite Sarkozy showing up in polls as the most disliked French president in years, the trailer for La Conquete, to be screened on May 18, has been viewed half a million times online, suggesting it could see the same success as two best-selling books on Sarkozy this year.
The up-close-and-personal depiction of a newly elected leader fighting to save his marriage is a novelty in France, where directors have long avoided dealing directly with contemporary politics on-screen, much less an acting president.
In interviews with French media, the producers describe the movie as a U.S.-style biopic drawn from first-hand accounts and news articles. Former members of Sarkozy's cabinet reportedly advised them on details at the outset of the project.
"In general French cinema has avoided portraying presidents on-screen," said Michel Ciment, editor of "Positif," a magazine devoted to cinema and in print for over 50 years.
"Film-makers here are less interested in politics and more likely to make films with a psychological or moralistic slant."
Lead actor Denis Podalydes, who has portrayed historical French figures like Napoleon, has said he spent hours studying news footage of Sarkozy to get into character. The naturally bald actor wears a hair-piece in the movie.
In the past, cinematic portrayals of French presidents either alluded to them indirectly, as in 1960s movies where then-president Charles de Gaulle appeared as a silhouette, or after their death, as in the 2005 film "Le Promeneur du Champs de Mars" about former Socialist president Francois Mitterrand.
While film critics are curious about the film, they resent Durringer's insistence on keeping it so secret.
"I am very suspicious of people who refuse to show their film three weeks before the Festival -- it is completely unusual," said Ciment. "They want to short-circuit the press."
Yves Derai, co-author of a book about Sarkozy's relationship with Cecilia, said he expected few revelations from the film.
He said it would likely dwell on how Sarkozy's election prospects were swayed by a separation and subsequent reunion with Cecilia during his campaign. "People have moved beyond that story, which might have amused them back in 2007," he said.
With opinion polls suggesting Sarkozy would be defeated if he runs for re-election a year from now, pollsters are curious to see how the film might influence voters.
Stephane Rozes, head of the Cap political consultancy, said the movie could dredge up episodes that many French felt had destroyed the mystique of the presidency.
"If it's a success, it will probably weigh against him in the election, because it will remind people of the reasons they lost their affection for him in the first place," he said.
Editing by Catherine Bremer and Paul Casciato