Will Gérard Depardieu be France’s Harvey Weinstein?
The veteran actor is too beloved — the 'holy monster' is always forgiven
Gérard Depardieu was accused last Tuesday by 13 women, most of them young actresses, of sexually aggressive acts ranging from inappropriate banter to quasi-rape, according to an investigation by French news website Mediapart. But if France finally decides to make a Harvey Weinstein case of her greatest thespian, Gérard Depardieu, it will be reluctantly.
#BalanceTonPorc (#DenounceYourPig), the Gallic version of the #MeToo movement, a call for women to speak out on their experiences of sexual harassment on the workplace, was only launched in 2017. There had been an earlier wave of revelations on misogyny in politics as early as 2011, triggered by the New York arrest of then-International Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn, yet it failed to ignite a broader movement.
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But Gérard Depardieu? It’s not that anyone thinks such accusations are unlikely from the 24-stone, 74-year-old star of over 200 movies, a dozen TV series, 18 stage plays, documentaries, 16 audio albums from Italian pop to Hector Berlioz, nine books and even a graphic novel. He’s been Obélix, Christopher Columbus, Cyrano de Bergerac, Danton, Rodin, every Musketeer except Aramis in various Alexandre Dumas adaptations, Dumas himself, Inspector Maigret, and even Dominique Strauss-Kahn.
Depardieu is excessive, in everything. He gets a pass because he’s what the French call un monstre sacré, a holy monster. He’s our very own Gargantua giant, a national literary hero, practically illiterate until his teens, who can inflect the most difficult parts with extraordinary subtlety and vulnerability; probably the best Tartuffe ever since Molière wrote the play.
Nothing fazes Depardieu’s numerous fans. He converted to Islam and was a Muslim for two years. Vladimir Putin gave him a Russian passport after he got bored with living in Belgium as a tax exile. He got in trouble for urinating into an empty bottle on board a CityJet plane, because the flight attendants wouldn’t let him use the lavatory. He’s recounted how his mother wanted to abort him with knitting needles; that he helped deliver his own younger sister because the midwife was late; that he spent time in jail at 16 for selling stolen cigarettes and stealing cars; that, aged 9, he witnessed a rape by older boys in his neighbourhood.
Rape, in fact, is a recurrent theme in Depardieu’s life and career. He shot to stardom in Bertrand Blier’s 1974 Les Valseuses, an impressive indie debut that also starred Isabelle Huppert and Jeanne Moreau, and became a classic. Valseuses is French slang for bollocks, and the film, to put it bluntly, is a series of rapes, perhaps only understandable in the nihilistic post-May ’68 era. It’s been shown multiple times on prime time television — another example of France’s very different attitude to sex and performative transgression.
The 13 women interviewed at length by Mediapart tell damningly similar stories. On set, between takes, Depardieu gets into their personal space, talks dirty, growls suggestively, paws them: on the backside, hips, breasts, sometimes shoving a hand into their knickers.
In every case, the film crew ignores it, or, worse, starts laughing at the banter. The few brave enough to accuse the star (the bankable star, on whose name the funding of the entire film often rests) are told not to make a fuss. “Mais c’est Gérard!” directors and producers say. “He’s just like that, it doesn’t mean anything.”
Again and again, the victims, interviewed separately, say that even more than Depardieu’s acts, it’s the non-reaction of their co-workers and employers that traumatised them. They use a mafia term, “omerta”, having to stay silent or else. “I didn’t want to lose the job, then be blacklisted in the business forever,” one says. “I was twenty, he was important to the film and I wasn’t,” says another.
Two have already provided evidence as witnesses for a case brought by one young actress, Charlotte Arnould, the daughter of friends, who accuses Depardieu of having raped her twice in 2018 when, a 21-year-old virgin at the time, she visited him at his Paris house for career advice. Depardieu has been indicted but after five years the case still hasn’t had a hearing. Most of the events described in Mediapart this week fall under the statute of limitations; but the account nonetheless may end Depardieu’s long spell of impunity when the Arnould case comes to court.
Is France finally ready to slay its monstre sacré? The evidence would appear to suggest not.
The article begins with this statement: “Gérard Depardieu was accused last Tuesday by 13 women, most of them young actresses, of sexually aggressive acts ranging from inappropriate banter to quasi-r*pe.” I rolled my eyes and thought this was yet another instance of some women trying to claim sexual harassment based on the male gaze or a slightly off-color joke.
Then I read, “Depardieu gets into their personal space, talks dirty (“How many d*cks have you had in that pretty mouth?”, “I want to lick your p*ss*”, and more) … sometimes shoving a hand into their kn*ck*rs.” (I’m editing words I think the Unherd moderation software will object to).
In my opinion, Depardieu’s behavior, if the accusations are true, goes well beyond, for example, “banter” and is unacceptable. Maybe it’s time France developed fresh acting talent and allowed the 74-year-old to retire gracefully, or as gracefully as he can manage.
It sounds like he’s had a good run for his money and should be held accountable, not allowed to retire gracefully.
‘ “I didn’t want to lose the job, then be blacklisted in the business forever,” one (actress) says. ‘ And then expects co-workers to speak out on her behalf.
If there is blacklisting, the problem goes further than Depardieu.
If this is the first article by Anne-Elisabeth Moutet for Unherd, it’s a great start. I’ve watched her interviews on Newsnight and she invariably comes across with a native intelligence and ability to speak directly to the core of the issue at hand.
The reaction in France to #MeToo was at best equivocal, with several prominent French actresses displaying some disdain for those caught up in the US system whereby career advancement often depended on sexual favours.
The author is immersed in her native culture but is able to provide a perfectly balanced perspective on cultural iconography, in the form of those who’ve attained the status of ‘national treasure’. How France reacts to these charges looks like a pivotal moment, and i look forward to further articles by the author, commenting on how this develops, not to mention other salient aspects of the ‘culture wars’.
It’s certainly not her first Unherd article. Click on her picture at the top of the article and you’ll see all her other Unherd pieces.
Ah, thanks for that.
Whatever he is, he isn’t a gentleman
Very few Frenchman are, but there are some very notable exceptions, as one might expect.
What a cliche? I live in a small French village and most, not a few, of my French male neighbours, friends and acquaintances are polite and courteous.
Mais c’est Charles.
I know the thinking classes are partial to a bit of irony so try this:
In one of Depardieu’s forgotten movies, La Dernière Femme (The Last Woman) released 1976, his character actually castrates himself because he can’t cope with the rise of feminism.
Rather like the ‘Galli’ or Priests of Cybele were wont to do in times long past.
Of course one of the very few benefits of Christianity was that this practice was banned, but sadly only to be replaced by sodomising little boys “until they split”, to lapse into the vernacular.
She (Charlotte Arnould) was “raped” twice because visited him twice in August 2018.
I think she was not completely satisfied with the first “rape”
As long as self-admitted paedophiles like Gabriel Matzneff and other public figures belonging to Frances warped ‘sexual aristocracy’ of the 70s-90s are held accountable for their crimes, I haven’t much faith in Obelix being made to pay for his grotesque ‘banter’.
Was Harvey Weinstein beloved?
It confused me, but it seems that the comparison with Weinstein refers to the alleged (in Depardieu’s case) acts, not any sort of national treasure status. Difficult to imagine Weinstein as a national treasure.
“…practically illiterate until his teens.” Spending time in jail at 16. Then made into a highly exalted national star. Repeated unreported offenses. Is it any wonder he turned into a monster?
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