Last December 7, Complément d’enquête, a news program on France 2, decided to broadcast a documentary entitled “La chute de l’ogre”. “The ogre” in question is the famous French actor Gérard Depardieu. In particular, the documentary features images of a video report shot by a friend who accompanied Depardieu on a visit to North Korea in 2018 to celebrate seventy years of the North Korean regime. The French actor is known for admiring and associating with authoritarian regimes: images and videos of Depardieu next to his beloved Putin and the Chechen dictator Kadyrov are well-known in France.
In the video, the famous French actor speaks freely and does so in a constantly sexual register as soon as he is in the presence of women. The actor then accompanies his inappropriate comments with gestures and guttural noises, mimicking the sexual act. One sequence in particular shocked the French public. On a horse farm, Depardieu says “women love to ride horses (because) their clitorises rub against the saddle (…) they have a lot of fun”. He then continues: “They are great sluts.” Moments later, a young Korean girl on horseback is filmed while the actor utters these words: “If she starts to gallop, she’ll come. Come on my girl, keep going.”
Depardieu was immediately defended by his family who accused France 2 of having manipulated the images. However, for purposes of legal protection, the public network took care to have all the images in its possession verified by a judicial officer, who confirmed that the words were addressed to the North Korean minor.
The France 2 documentary also addresses the numerous accusations of which the famous French actor has been the subject for some years. In fact, on December 16, 2020, Depardieu was charged with rape and sexual assault following a complaint from a young actress, Charlotte Arnould. Since then, about fifteen other women have accused the actor of sexual assault. At least two of these, along with Arnould’s complaint, are currently under investigation by the judiciary.
It is a “fall” for the iconic actor of French cinema, who seemed untouchable until not long ago. Now, in the midst of the swirl of media, old interviews are also re-emerging, one in particular given in 1978 in which he claimed to have participated in several rapes. The interview did not cause a scandal in French society at the time, but it was revived in the early 1990s in the United States.
In 1991, Gérard Depardieu was in the running for the Oscar as Best Actor for the role of Cyrano de Bergerac in Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s film. A few days before the ceremony, the American magazine Time exposed the interview with the actor that had been published in the columns of the American magazine Film Comment in 1978. In this interview, the actor made some extremely shocking comments, explaining in particular that he had participated in “too many rapes to count” during his youth. “There was nothing wrong with it,” he explained, “the girls wanted to be raped.” At the time, in an attempt to protect his image in the United States, Depardieu granted Time a reparative interview.
When questioned about his words by a journalist, the actor confirmed that he had participated in rapes. “But it was completely normal in those circumstances. It was part of my childhood,” he explained. That admission sparked a full-blown protest from feminist activists and seriously undermined the campaign for the Oscars led by the actor and the crew of the film Cyrano de Bergerac, an Oscar later won by Jeremy Irons. For its part, the French press instead evoked a conspiracy against the actor. A few days after the interview, Depardieu then backtracked. In a press release he denied having made such statements, complaining of a translation error by the American journalist.
Those statements cost him his American career. But there were no repercussions and resonance in France. Except for today, when the long wave of the French #MeToo is bringing to light interviews and documents and freeing the speech of many of Depardieu’s actress colleagues. Like the actress Sophie Marceau, who last summer in the columns of Le Monde spoke about the actor’s inappropriate behavior during the 1985 film “Police”, when she was 19 years old, accusations repeated a few days ago in the pages of Paris Match:
I said publicly at the time that I could not stand his rude and highly inappropriate behavior. Many people then turned against me, making me seem like a pain in the ass,
says the actress. Marceau described the actor’s groping, including “insistent, omnipresent, unnecessary and invisible hands-on camera”:
He never dared to touch me in front of the crew, otherwise he would have received my punch in the face. […] When he greeted a woman on the team, he squeezed her breast. Or the butt. He wasn’t hiding. If he didn’t meet open opposition, he kept doing it. At the time, everyone laughed with him, everyone loved him for it, everyone applauded him for who he was. And everyone thought it was normal […] Vulgarity and provocation have always been his profession. Now he is accused of the very things he was praised for.
After the scandal of the documentary on France 2, Gérard Depardieu was then disbarred from the Ordre National du Québec and stripped of the title of honorary citizen of the municipality of Estaimpuis in Belgium, while his wax statue was removed from the Grévin Museum in Paris. However, many spoke out in the actor’s defense.
Among the first was the actress Fanny Ardant, who declared on RTL Bonsoir: “is justice no longer expressed? Only the popular voice?” the actress protested. “What is happening to Gérard is a death sentence.”
Then Depardieu’s supporters organized themselves and on December 25 an appeal entitled “Don’t Cancel Depardieu” was published in Le Figaro, signed by around sixty personalities from the world of culture who denounced the “lynching” against the French actor. The signatories include the director Bertrand Blier, actresses Nathalie Baye, Carole Bouquet (Depardieu’s ex-wife), Victoria Abril and Charlotte Rampling and actors Jacques Weber, Pierre Richard and Gérard Darmon, but also the singers Roberto Alagna, Carla Bruni, Arielle Dombasle and Jacques Dutronc. In the text they define Gérard Depardieu as “the last sacred monster of cinema”:
We can no longer remain silent in the face of the lynching that has struck him, in the face of the torrent of hatred that is pouring out on his person, without nuance, in the most complete amalgam and in contempt of the presumption of innocence that he would have benefited from, as all others, if he hadn’t been the giant of cinema that he is,
Through his acting genius, Gérard Depardieu takes part in the artistic influence of our country. […] Whatever happens, no one will ever be able to erase the indelible trace of his work which has forever marked our time. The rest, everything else, is about justice – which justice. Exclusively.
But the appeal has not achieved the desired effect. In fact, French cinema is not unanimous. Some have refused to sign the appeal. There were seven hundred signatures when a similar appeal was published a few years ago in defense of director Roman Polanski. Today there are almost sixty for Depardieu, and the average age of the signatories is 70 years old. The author of the appeal contacted young actors, but no one responded, and no one from the next generation of French cinema has expressed support for Depardieu. The division on this issue resembles, today more than ever, a generational gap on the topic of sexist and sexual violence.
And the response from the new French cinema was not long in coming. A counter-appeal has been published by the collective “Cerveaux non disponibles” on a blog hosted by the Mediapart website. There were six hundred signatories including actors, singers and entertainment personalities. It quickly reached 2500 signatures. The signatories attack the pro-Depardieu appeal and President Macron, who a few days earlier had defended the famous French actor, defining the appeal’s positions as “spitting in the face of Gérard Depardieu’s victims, but also all the victims of sexist and sexual violence “:
It’s a sinister and perfect illustration of the world of before, which refuses to let things change.
And then they add the question of the presumption of innocence:
Don’t get us wrong, we also want justice to do its job. But history shows us how difficult it is for a victim of sexual violence to speak out, win her case, and have the violence inflicted on her officially recognized. Let the courts do their job. But we too must do ours. We must support the victims and not leave the attackers, rapists and oppressors alone.
The pro-Depardieu appeal then had consequences for some of its signatories, who in turn were accused on social media by young actors and actresses for having behaved incorrectly on set. This is the case of Victoria Abril, accused by her young colleague Lucie Lucas.
Lucas, known to the French public for having played the leading role in a series alongside the Spanish actress, said that Abril herself was responsible for numerous assaults, including sexual assaults against her work colleagues. Lucas said he had needed time to speak freely and explained how at some point it can be difficult to express oneself in a world where the power relationship is extremely harsh.
Others have reported witnessing sexual assaults by Depardieu himself, as in the case of the actress Vahina Giocante, who spoke out on her Facebook profile about the actor’s sexual assault against an extra during the shooting of a film.
Some of the signatories then decided to withdraw their signatures from the appeal. Director and actor Charles Berling withdrew his signature after some theater companies announced they no longer wanted to work for his theater. Yvan Attal, director and actor, did not withdraw his signature but declared that he did not agree with the published appeal.
And then politics comes into play. Some of the signatories decided to withdraw their signatures after the press revealed the identity of the author of the appeal they had signed. This was Yannis Ezziadi, an actor who is close to Depardieu’s daughter and a friend of Sarah Knafo – Eric Zemmour’s advisor and partner -, as well as a columnist for the conservative magazine Causeur. Ezziadi is very present on the television channels owned by the holding company of the very conservative billionaire Vincent Bolloré: his defense of bullfighting has earned him several invitations to appear on the “right-wing populist” channels CNews and C8.
Among those who decided to withdraw their signature after the revelation of the author’s identity were Nadine Trintignant, director and wife of Jean-Louis Trintignant, and Depardieu’s ex-wife, Carole Bouquet: both withdrew their signatures so as not to be associated with Ezziadi’s ideas and values. Which, however, can claim victory for having carried out one of the major operations of seduction of the conservative and reactionary right within the world of French culture and entertainment, which is traditionally aligned to the left.
President Emmanuel Macron has also given a little help. When asked about the documentary during his visit to the C à vous program on December 20, he did not want to condemn the actor, preferring to show his support for him and blaming the media “witch hunt” of which, according to him, Gérard Depardieu is currently the object. This stance, according to the French press, also caught many political leaders of the Macronian majority by surprise. In fact, the French press has labeled it an attempt by the president to divert public attention from the majority’s difficulties with the new immigration reform, which has split the government majority, with members of the left wing of Macron’s movement resigning from the government after the law, already hardened by the parliamentary right – whose votes Macron needs – was also voted for by the far right, an episode that has been a trauma in the presidential camp.
Translation by Paul Rosenberg
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