French star Gérard Depar­dieu faces rape al­le­ga­tions

The Australian Women's Weekly - - Contents -

In France, Gérard Depar­dieu is a na­tional hero, lauded for his act­ing ge­nius and bon vi­vant ex­cesses alike. But as the 69-year-old faces an al­le­ga­tion of rape, the coun­try is locked in its own #MeToo bat­tle, with many women sup­port­ing their beloved rogue, re­ports Wil­liam Lan­g­ley.

In a huge, 18th-cen­tury house in the cen­tre of Paris, Gérard Depar­dieu, France’s great­est lm star, lives a strange, per­ilous life, wreathed in tales of in­dul­gence and ex­cess. For more than 40 years, since he rst ar­rived in the city as a pen­ni­less vagabond from the prov­inces, Depar­dieu has shown a re­mark­able tal­ent for both act­ing and wrap­ping the French pub­lic around his saucis­son-sized ngers.

His wild ways and mon­strous ap­petites for booze, feuding and scan­dal have made him into a pe­cu­liarly French hero. Many here see him as a kind of one-man ver­sion of The Three Mus­ke­teers – a raf sh, cava­lier throw­back to a more ro­man­tic age – but the coun­try’s seem­ingly lim­it­less ca­pac­ity for for­give­ness now faces its sternest test.

In late Au­gust, it was re­vealed that a 22-year-old aspir­ing ac­tress had ac­cused Depar­dieu, 69, of rape and sex­ual as­sault. Ac­cord­ing to a po­lice re­port, the wo­man – the daugh­ter of a friend of Depar­dieu’s – had gone alone to his 20-room house in the Saint-Ger­main district of Paris, ap­par­ently to be coached for an up­com­ing the­atre role.

She claims that on two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, a week apart, he as­saulted her. A fort­night later she told her mother, who called the po­lice. The ac­tor is now the sub­ject of an en­quête ju­di­ci­aire – a pre­lim­i­nary in­ves­ti­ga­tion by a judge, who will de­cide whether he should face charges.

Depar­dieu is say­ing noth­ing. At least in pub­lic. As the news broke he was con­tin­u­ing his fa­mil­iar, chaotic pro­gres­sion through life, rst in Al­ge­ria, where he has caused out­rage by play­ing a con­tro­ver­sial 19th cen­tury ruler, then in North Korea, where he made a bizarre cameo ap­pear­ance at dic­ta­tor Kim Jong-un’s cel­e­bra­tions of 70 years of state­hood.

At an of ce across town, his high-pro le lawyer, Hervé Temime, who has rep­re­sented fugi­tive lm di­rec­tor Ro­man Polan­ski and a host of other star names, tells me that Depar­dieu is “in­con­testably in­no­cent” and hints that the ac­tor may bring a counter-ac­tion for defama­tion.

“No one who knows Gérard be­lieves he would do any­thing like this,” he says. “I am cer­tain he will be cleared, but it is wrong that all this has de­lib­er­ately been made pub­lic, and that needs to be ad­dressed.”

Likened by a for­mer co-star Robert de Niro to a rogue truck in a de­mo­li­tion derby, Depar­dieu has left a trail of car­nage along a ca­reer path that now stretches over 180 lms. The prod­uct of a trou­bled up­bring­ing, he has done jail time for auto theft, grave rob­bing, had at least 18 mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dents and been thrown off a plane for uri­nat­ing in the aisle, and his claim to drink 10-plus bot­tles of wine a day sounds im­plau­si­ble only to those who haven’t seen him in ac­tion.

Yet his friends ac­knowl­edge a more re ec­tive, even fem­i­nine side to the rough­house per­sona. “Through­out my life it has been women who have helped me the most, and taught me ev­ery­thing I know,” he once told me in an in­ter­view. He spoke of his ad­mi­ra­tion for fe­male writ­ers in­clud­ing Vir­ginia Woolf, Anaïs Nin and Co­lette, and claimed: “I have stayed friends with ev­ery wo­man I have ever been in love with.”

In this con­text, the al­le­ga­tion of rape has caused real shock – par­tic­u­larly at a time when France is still ar­gu­ing fu­ri­ously over its re­sponse to the Har­vey We­in­stein sex­ual abuse scan­dal. To many, the case in ef­fect puts the coun­try it­self on trial. Few other places in the world have been so re­sis­tant to the rise of the #MeToo phe­nom­e­non, with both men and women fear­ing that France’s

long-cher­ished cul­ture of sex­ual free­dom is un­der at­tack from an alien form of pu­ri­tanism.

There have been heated de­bates be­tween ri­val fem­i­nist fac­tions over whether the new rules of en­gage­ment em­power or in­fan­tilise women. A now-cel­e­brated open let­ter penned by the im­per­ish­able French screen siren, Cather­ine Deneuve, and signed by more than 100 other prom­i­nent French women at­tacked #MeToo as an ex­pres­sion of “to­tal­i­tar­ian prud­ish­ness”, which, by stig­ma­tis­ing men and treat­ing sim­ple irt­ing as ha­rass­ment, was mak­ing re­la­tions be­tween the sexes worse.

“There has been a le­git­i­mate awak­en­ing about the sex­ual vi­o­lence women are sub­jected to,” wrote the au­thors, “par­tic­u­larly in their pro­fes­sional lives, where some men abuse their power. This was nec­es­sary. But what was sup­posed to lib­er­ate has now been turned on its head: We are be­ing told what we can prop­erly say and what we must stay silent about – and women who refuse to fall into line are la­belled traitors. Just like in the witch-hunt days, what we are once again wit­ness­ing here is pu­ri­tanism in the name of a so-called greater good, claim­ing to pro­mote the lib­er­a­tion and pro­tec­tion of women, only to en­slave them to a sta­tus of eter­nal vic­tim and re­duce them to the de­fence­less prey of wicked male chau­vin­ists.”

None of which means that France doesn’t have a prob­lem. Mar­lène Schi­appa, the out­spo­ken 35-year-old Min­is­ter for Gen­der Equal­ity, calls France “a par­adise for sex­ual preda­tors”, with a whole range of cul­tural and le­gal im­ped­i­ments ranged against women who seek to com­plain about their treat­ment. In Septem­ber she in­tro­duced a new law, the­o­ret­i­cally ban­ning ev­ery­thing from wolf-whistling in the street to “mar­i­tal in­tim­i­da­tion”, al­though crit­ics, in­clud­ing op­po­si­tion politi­cians and ju­rists, have called it un­work­able and “pure spin”.

At this point it would be tempt­ing to see Depar­dieu’s case as France’s long-de­layed #MeToo mo­ment, but so far things are fol­low­ing a pred­i­ca­ble course. The cul­tural elite has largely ral­lied around the star, cov­er­age in news­pa­pers and TV net­works has been rel­a­tively muted, and movie fan sites del­uged with mes­sages of sup­port.

Within hours of the al­le­ga­tions be­com­ing known, Do­minique Bes­ne­hard, one of the coun­try’s best known show busi­ness agents, pub­licly ac­cused the young com­plainant of ly­ing. “When are these young ac­tresses go­ing to stop mak­ing things up to get them­selves no­ticed?” he fumed. “We all know Gérard. He’s a larger-thanlife char­ac­ter, but he’s gen­tle. In my day wannabe ac­tresses went to drama school, not some star’s house to ac­cuse them of do­ing bad things.”

Ac­tress San­drine Kiber­lain, jury pres­i­dent this year of the pres­ti­gious Deauville Amer­i­can Film Fes­ti­val, also weighed in, call­ing Depar­dieu “the most bril­liant, funny, awe­some man I know. What are they say­ing? That he’s a per­vert?”

Over a ute of cham­pagne at the Paris Ritz, au­thor and broad­caster Anne-Elis­a­beth Moutet – one of the sig­na­to­ries to the Deneuve let­ter – says the French have come to love Depar­dieu as much for his aws as his bravura screen per­for­mances. “He’s this big, lum­ber­ing, oa sh, ding­bat-crazy char­ac­ter who also hap­pens to be a to­tal ge­nius,” she says. “I re­mem­ber once be­ing at a party in Cannes and see­ing him stand­ing in a owerbed in a tor­ren­tial rain­storm, dressed in his evening suit, scream­ing to the heav­ens that he loved his [then] wife Elis­a­beth, and you couldn’t help but love him back. To us he’s a kind of liv­ing na­tional mon­u­ment, and the idea of him do­ing some­thing se­ri­ously bad ac­tu­ally hurts us.”

No one doubts that if Depar­dieu ends up in the dock, the de­bate over the coun­try’s at­ti­tude to sex­ual abuse will be pow­er­fully reignited. “It’s a com­pli­cated is­sue for us,” says Anne-Elis­a­beth. “Un­like, say, the

“We all know Gérard. He’s a larger-thanlife char­ac­ter, but he’s gen­tle.”

US, where things get painted in black or white, France is a coun­try of grey ar­eas. Those of us who signed the let­ter were at­tacked for sup­pos­edly be­tray­ing women, but our point is that you can’t re­duce some­thing as com­plex as hu­man re­la­tion­ships to a hash­tag.

“We agree that rape is a se­ri­ous crime and that sex­ual ha­rass­ment, es­pe­cially in the work­place, has to be stamped out, but the idea that women are these poor, help­less lit­tle be­ings who will be trau­ma­tised for life if some bloke makes a pass at them in a bar is just in­sult­ing.”

Depar­dieu’s re­la­tion­ship with

France is, it­self, com­plex. He has fre­quently threat­ened to leave – on one oc­ca­sion tele­phon­ing for­mer pres­i­dent François Hol­lande to de­liver a fu­ri­ous ha­rangue about his tax bill be­fore declar­ing, “Vive la France, I’m off.” He de­camped to Rus­sia, where he was given hon­orary cit­i­zen­ship, but de­spite sim­i­lar tantrums over the years, has al­ways re­turned.

It isn’t hard to see why, for his story could have been writ­ten by Vic­tor Hugo. Born into a poor fam­ily in Château­roux, a dreary town in cen­tral France where his father swept oors in a fac­tory, he ran away from home aged 12 and was taken in by a pair of age­ing pros­ti­tutes who plied their trade at a US army base out­side town.

For the next few years he drifted from place to place, hus­tling, steal­ing and schem­ing, not al­ways suc­cess­fully, to avoid the law. At 16 he ar­rived in Paris, “big, ugly, broke, func­tion­ally il­lit­er­ate, but oth­er­wise okay,” as he puts it in his au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. He had one friend in the cap­i­tal who turned out to be study­ing at a drama school, and sug­gested Gérard came along, too. Af­ter im­press­ing in small stage and lm parts, he broke through play­ing a small-time hood­lum in Les Valseuses, a 1974 crime drama that won rave re­views.

By this time he was mar­ried to Elis­a­beth Guig­not, a school­teacher’s daugh­ter, whom he had met at the the­atre school. They had two chil­dren, and col­lab­o­rated in sev­eral lms, in­clud­ing the in­ter­na­tion­ally ac­claimed Jean de Florette, but sep­a­rated af­ter 20 years. A se­ries of other ro­mances fol­lowed, no­tably with Ca­role Bou­quet, his co-star in the 1990 epic, Cyrano de Berg­erac. For the last 14 years, he has been linked to Clé­men­tine Igou, a rarely seen 41-year-old Har­vard Univer­sity grad­u­ate who ap­pears to spend much of her time run­ning a wine es­tate in Italy.

There are few signs of life at the Paris man­sion. Depar­dieu tried to sell the place for a re­ported

$80 mil­lion ve years ago, af­ter an­nounc­ing his move to Rus­sia, but later re­lented and kept it as his main base. At the bistro across the street, reg­u­lars say he used to en­joy rid­ing his mo­tor­bike through the gates, chal­leng­ing the pa­parazzi to chase him, but gave up af­ter crash­ing and fail­ing a breath test.

The strains of ad­vanc­ing age and hard liv­ing seem not to bother or con­strain him. His fans, though, have wor­ried for years that one day he would have to pay a price for the life he leads, and a judge may now have to de­cide what it is.

“The idea that women are these poor, help­less lit­tle be­ings ... is just in­sult­ing.”

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