Gérard Depardieu, the French actor who moved to Belgium recently to escape the confiscatory 75 per cent top marginal income tax rate imposed on millionaires by newly elected French President François Hollande, is at least as “French” as the Eiffel Tower. And his background points to a proletarian upbringing.
When another of France’s sons – in fact, the richest man in the country, Bernard Arnault, the CEO and chief shareholder of the luxury behemoth LVMH – kicked the socialist dust of France from his A. Testoni Moro monk-strap shoes and moved to Belgium to escape the depredations visited upon him by M. Hollande, the first socialist President of France since François Mitterrand left office, the left wing Libération expressed its contempt for the rich in a headline on its front page: “Get lost, you rich b------.”
The san culottes socialists in France squealed their approval and secretly dreamed of guillotines.
Upon Depardieu’s leave-taking, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, similarly dumped on M. Depardieu, calling him a “a pathetic loser.”
The “pathetic loser” responded last Sunday with an open letter. “I was born in 1948,” M. Depardieu wrote, “I started working aged 14, as a printer, as a warehouseman, then as an actor, and I’ve always paid my taxes.” Depardieu noted that he had paid 145 million euros in tax, and to this day employs 80 people. Last year the French actor paid taxes amounting to 85 per cent of his income. “I am neither worthy of pity nor admirable, but I shall not be called 'pathetic’,” he concluded.
And, now an émigré, M. Depardieu returned his French passport.
The government had been expecting the French people, traditionally distrustful of riches and Marxists under the skin, to heap shame upon M. Depardieu. They had seriously misjudged the temper of the people; according to a poll taken by the popular Le Parisien, nearly 70 per cent of the French populous supported M. Depardieu’s boisterous political incorrectness.
M. Depardieu has always been pleasingly irascible. Refused permission to use the loo on an Air France plane, he urinated in a plastic bottle; he’s punched a number of annoying paparazzi in various countries; and his chat about some contemporary actors has been abrasive: “She has nothing,” M. Depardieu said of Juliette Binoche. “I can’t even comprehend how she made 50 movies.”
The French admire excess: Hence the opulence of Versailles and the French Revolution, itself excessive, inspired in part as a reaction to the excesses on the monarchy.
Excess, thy name is Depardieu. But the man, large in body and heart, is no hypocrite. His drunken brawls have not led to stints in tony rehabilitation centers; he is not contrite by nature, and he would not be seen within miles of a health food store, which is to French cuisine what rat poison is to rats.
As an actor, his personality is porous. M. Depardieu has had no formal acting training, and yet he has an uncanny ability to breathe life into such disparate characters as Christopher Columbus or Reynaldo in Keith Branagh’s Hamlet, Cyrano de Bergerac on stage and screen, Rasputin and Jean Valjean. He has worked under the direction of such giants as Bertolucci, Ang Lee, Godard, Resnais, Handke,Truffaut, Wajda and Weir.
When the great Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda left his county in 1982 for France, there to direct “Danton,” he chose M. Depardieu to play the part of Danton, a revolutionist and friend of Robespierre who truly was a man of the people, much beloved by them. During the Reign of Terror, which Danton vigorously opposed by means of a newspaper he wrote, Robespierre made arrangement for Danton’s execution. Robespierre, the apostle of Terror, could not permit Danton to live, for he was continually calling upon the people to demand their rights, given to them by the revolution itself. Wajda remained in France for six years, and when communist finally collapsed under the weight of its own internal contradictions, he returned in 1989 to a free Poland from which all the Robespierre worshipers of state power and terror had fled.
In his confrontation with the ideologue socialists of France, it is M. Depardieu who is playing the part of Danton; M. Hollande is his Robespierre.
“I am leaving,” M. Depardieu said to his own Robespierres, “because you consider that success, creation, talent, anything different, must be punished.” His new house -- not inappropriately a remodeled customs house -- is in a small Belgian village about 24 miles from France.
In time, the French will tire of their ideological frauds and give them the bum’s rush; perhaps then M. Depardieu may return home to his beloved France.