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OPINION: Macron is wrong, Depardieu no longer 'makes France proud'

John Lichfield
John Lichfield - [email protected]
OPINION: Macron is wrong, Depardieu no longer 'makes France proud'
French actor Gerard Depardieu in Paris on January 10, 2017. (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

The scandal surrounding the disgraced French actor Gérard Depardieu continues to rumble on in France and President Emmanuel Macron has made blunder by backing the fallen star, writes John Lichfield.


In the world of French cinema and television, an “anti-oscar” – or ironic award for a disastrous performance – is called a “Gérard”.

This distinction, the equivalent of a Golden Raspberry or Razzie in the anglophone cinema world, is NOT named after Gérard Depardieu. How could it be?

For half a century, Depardieu has been the gnarled face and the gentle voice of French cinema. He is the only French male actor who is recognised and admired all over the world; he is a man capable of ennobling roles as disparate as Obelix the Gaul or Cyrano de Bergerac or Inspector Maigret or Jean de Florette.

Gérard, the actor, does not merit a “Gérard”. Gérard Depardieu, the man, is another story.

He is under formal investigation for rape. He is a notorious drunk. He is a vocal fan of Vladimir Putin. He insulted France, threatened to give up his French citizenship and became a Russian. (Belgium refused to have him.)

A recent TV documentary showed unseen footage of his visit to North Korea in 2018 to “celebrate” the 70th anniversary of one of the most brutal regimes in the world. Depardieu was seen insulting women and making vulgar, sexual remarks about a small girl riding a horse.

Reactions to this film have created a political scandal which started before the Christmas and New Year holidays but shows no signs of abating. In some ways, it is a very French scandal; in other ways, it is reminiscent of the “culture wars” promoted by the hard Right in the United States.

Unlikely as it seems, Depardieu has become a cause célèbre for the French nationalist Right -  a symbol of elemental “Frenchness” under attack from the forces of feminism and “le wokisme”.

Sixty well-known French actors and film executives signed an open letter in Le Figaro on Christmas Day which claimed that Depardieu was the victim of a “lynching” and a “torrent of hatred” which had swamped his “right to be considered innocent”.

The letter was headed “Don’t cancel Depardieu”.


“By attacking Gérard Depardieu, they are attacking art itself,” it said. “His genius as an actor promotes the artistic influence of France. He has contributed, in the highest manner, to the history of art”.

The letter was signed by the cream of the French cinematic world, usually associated with the political Left. It rapidly emerged that it had been written by an obscure actor, Yannis Ezziadi, who had campaigned for the far-right pundit turned politician, Eric Zemmour.

Le Monde reported that Ezziadi was a close friend of Zemmour’s campaign manager and romantic partner, Sarah Knafo.

Cue an embarrassed drip-drip of cinema celebrities to disassociate themselves from the letter they had signed. One of the first was Nadine Trintignant whose daughter Marie was killed in a violent rage by her popstar boyfriend, Bertrand Cantat, in 2003.

The actor and director Jacques Weber apologised for “blindly” signing “a petition promoted by dishonest and dangerous people”. He complained that his signature was “another form of rape”.

Another celebrity now finds himself trapped in this political and moral minefield – the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron. A couple of days before the Christmas letter appeared in Le Figaro, Macron went out of his way to defend Depardieu in a live TV interview devoted to other subjects.


“I detest witch-hunts,” Macron said. Depardieu should be treasured as an “immense actor” who “makes France proud”.

The President went on to repudiate his own culture minister and former cultural adviser Rima Abdul Malak who had started the procedure to deprive Depardieu of his Legion d’Honneur. He also cast doubt on the accuracy of the TV documentary about Depardieu’s visit to North Korea (doubts which have since proven to be mistaken).

What on earth was Macron doing? He was apparently furious with Rima Malak for usurping his role as supreme arbiter of the Légion d’Honneur, France’s highest civilian honour.

Some commentators suggest that he also wanted to reassure the elderly, socially- conservative part of his electorate that he was not a “wokiste”.

Either way, Macron blundered. The publication of the Le Figaro letter three days later – and the revelations about its author – leaves the President atmospherically aligned with the identitarian, backward-looking Right. His political brand has always been forward-looking, centrist, pro-European and pro-women.

A rival on-line petition and letter appeared this week signed by 600 celebrities, and later by thousands of ordinary people. It describes both the Figaro letter and Macron’s remarks as a “spit in the face” of all “sexist and sexual victims.”


Of course, Depardieu, the man, has a right to a fair legal investigation and a fair trial on the allegations of rape. Of course, Depardieu, the actor, is a genius.

But his life has become a tragedy of drunken self-advertisement. He has long since ceased to “make France proud”, as Macron claimed. His genius as an artist does not make him immune – as the Le Figaro letter suggested – to recrimination for his ugly behaviour towards women or his taste for murderous autocrats.    

There may never be a cinematic “Gérard” for Depardieu the actor. President Macron deserves a special, political “Gérard” for defending Depardieu the man.


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Alexander 2024/01/04 12:38
Please explain what is G.P. actually accused of: things like "insulting women and making vulgar, sexual remarks about a small girl riding a horse", tricking helpless M. Weber into “another form of rape" - or things like hugging putin and attending another dictator's party?

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