French President Emmanuel Macron has thrown himself into what he calls a "catharsis" operation by confronting angry voters in a series of walkabouts, an attempt to regain control of the narrative that could also expose how distant he has become.

After weeks of protests against his decision to raise the minimum pension age by two years, Macron's popularity ratings have plunged to near record-low levels, threatening to paralyze his reform agenda and turn him into a lame duck.

Macron, who cannot run again in 2027, needs to cool the political temperature to strike deals on pay and conditions with unions over the next few months, but also to prevent far-right leader Marine Le Pen from capitalizing on the discontent in future elections.