Former actress Brigitte Bardot's opinions about France's candidates for president attract extravagant attention.
Brigitte Bardot's take on French candidates gets media play
NICE, FRANCE // Her name is one of the most famous in the world. Her views have a capacity to amuse, offend or appal - and her verdicts on the 10 people seeking election as president of France may well do all three.
From her home on the French Rivera, Brigitte Bardot has offered a candidate-by-candidate assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of those vying for votes in today's first round.
It may not seem the essential guide for France's sizeable body of undecided voters. A 77-year-old former actress's ideas on who should govern the country is probably worth no more than those of the man or woman on the Parisian Metro.
But Ms Bardot's opinions attract extravagant attention. A leading newspaper, Nice-Matin, which circulates along the Cote d'Azur, gave front-page treatment to news that she had "broken her silence". It then devoted every inch of pages two and three to her pronouncements.
According to "BB", the president, Nicolas Sarkozy, fighting an uphill battle to win a second term, is a promise-breaker unworthy of trust; his fiercest rival, the socialist François Hollande cannot be taken seriously because of his name alone ("it would be like having a president called Germany"); the far-left militant Nathalie Arthaud looks as if she would cheerfully stick her enemies' heads on pikestaffs and the Norwegian-born "Green" Eva Joly is "so cute with her little foreign accent".
French election law banned the publication of new opinion polls yesterday but the last ones to be conducted had Mr Hollande narrowly ahead of Mr Sarkozy, or level with him, for today's first round and comfortably in the lead for the May 6 decider.
Ms Bardot pledges her own vote to the far-right, anti-immigration Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, whom she judges to have rid the party of any hint of any Nazi or fascist strains associated with it when run by Ms Le Pen's "arrogant, vindictive" father, Jean-Marie.
Pronouncements from Ms Bardot, who turned her back on the cinema nearly 40 years ago and launched her animal rights foundation 13 years later, are not always taken seriously.
She caused some mirth, but perhaps also won a little sympathy, when she complained in an open letter to the mayor of Saint-Tropez that increased helicopter services to the villas of other wealthy residents meant her privacy was now invaded from land, sea and air.
Air traffic added to the intrusions caused by walking tours past her home, she said, and "celebrity villa" cruises whose guides could be heard "shouting my life out into microphones in six languages".
But Ms Bardot has angered French Muslims, representing the country's biggest religion after Roman Catholicism, with her repeated condemnation of halal meat production methods.
Her hopes of being considered objective have been undermined by more general attacks on the "Islamification of France".
In her 1999 book Le Carré de Pluton (Pluto's Square), she wrote: "My country, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners, especially Muslims."
The comments landed her in trouble with the courts and she was fined on five occasions for incitement to racial hatred.
She was unrepentant, stating in a later book, Un Cri Dans Le Silence (A Scream of Silence): "Over the past 20 years, we have given in to a subterranean, dangerous and uncontrolled infiltration which not only resists adjusting to our laws and customs but which will, as the years pass, attempt to impose its own."
Along the way, she has also deplored seal culls in Canada, the "torture" of bears in China and France's official inclusion of bullfighting in its cultural heritage.
In her Nice-Matin interview, Ms Bardot praises Nathalie Arthaud for being, however cruel towards human adversaries, a rare voice of "kindness and understanding" for animals. And she admits Ms Le Pen, though an "admirable woman", is not a likely winner of the 2012 race for the Elysée.
But asked to nominate her ideal president, Ms Bardot looked far beyond France's borders to Vladimir Putin, who had "done more for the protection of animals than successive French presidents".
To run a country like Russia, she said, "you cannot be a yes man, but more like an old-fashioned schoolmaster. Someone who can rule a nation. And we need that".